Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano

 

uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...
PDme

 

 

 

STATEMENT OF TEACHING PHILOSOPHY 

I am interested in helping each singer discover the instrument they have from nature, and my approach is essentially collaborative; I strive to give the student their own tools to experiment and refine the control of vocal production.

I concentrate primarily on the location and perception of resonance, and how that is controlled and enhanced by the direction and support of the breath. Learning how to feel a free and balanced resonance in every range, and on every vowel, provides the ability to sing perfectly in tune in all registers and in all temperaments. By learning the fine control of resonance the skills of vibrato control, dynamics, and tone color are also discovered. All of this is mediated by a steady, focused airstream unobstructed by tension in the jaw, the tongue, or the soft palate.

The exploration of free resonance also requires exquisite control of legato and the preparation of pitch changes. By drilling both slow scales and arpeggios on a legato line, the subtleties of muscular timing involved in negotiating intervals can be examined and practiced.

I feel strongly that all singers need to have a precise sense of how these elements function, even those singers who have never struggled with a free and natural tone production. Without the knowledge of the optimal location of resonance on all pitches, any physical changes that alter the tone will create havoc in consistency and technique! The precision of resonance location also affords a broad palette of color and expression which is an asset to all repertoires from early music, through art song, and even opera.

My studio work and vocalises focus on getting the student to pay attention to very specific sensations caused by tone production: the freedom, pressure, and speed of the air during phonation; the freedom and extension of the jaw; the elevation of the soft palate at all times, and the flexibility and relaxation of the tongue. In addition, by searching for and tracking the vibrations on the hard palate and radiating onto the bones of the skull, the precise location of each frequency can be controlled and determined. I encourage every student to seek these sensations and to learn to describe them, so that they have more understanding of how a focused, resonant sound occurs. I listen very carefully to each voice, to determine if the maximum amount of free resonance is being produced, and suggest adjustments to redirect the air stream and free up tension in order to achieve a better, more powerful result.

In addition to locating precise resonance spots, I also train legato and fine control of timing between pitches or vowel changes. To perceive the physical motions that govern the change of pitch, the slow singing of legato scales is the first exercise of every session. While excellent use of breath is fundamental in singing, the most crucial aspect of breath control is its controlled release through phonation; therefore all my exercises are based in tone production and on open-mouth vowel singing (instead of humming or other pre-vocal sounds). I drill slow scales, arpeggio patterns, vowel sequences, and rapid scales in order to train the ability to anticipate shifting of air and muscle positions accommodating the pitch changes.

Given that the emphasis is on sensation and training primary control of the air stream, I ask my students to work on creating the sound ‘from the inside out’ instead of trying to mimic a demonstrated sound. Demonstration is limited to illustrating the result of a right and wrong approach, and is meant to encourage the student to intuit how the various sounds are produced instead of focusing on a result. I believe that models are important but without context can often lead to sub-optimal ways of reproducing a tone or a technique.

This basic foundation of technique can then be applied to the demands of various styles and voice types. If the singer trusts his instrument and knows the optimal free resonance in all ranges, they can experiment with moving things around to accommodate a wide variety of techniques. These include several varieties of straight-tone singing; throat articulation and other levels of articulated coloratura; messa di voce dynamic control; pianissimo and mezza voce; portamento; and extended vocal techniques required for contemporary music (such as spectral music, microtones, Sprechstimme, etc). These specialized skills are risky to acquire before a solid basis in free resonant singing has been established.

The confident placement of the voice also produces a fine, physical relationship to pitch. Even without perfect pitch, singers develop physical pitch memory that relates to the effort and vibrations inherent with each frequency; this sense can be refined further to produce flawless intonation in various temperaments based on pure intervals. For singers of early repertoires, the ability to automatically produce perfect fourths and fifths, pure thirds, and whole steps of varying widths corresponding to modal scale degrees is essential. By connecting the pitch location to the resonance and physical sensation, this skill is made more instinctive and reliable.

The study of historical performance practice is fraught with ambiguous evidence, both internal (score annotation, compositional technique) and external (anecdotal documents describing performances). While all lines of evidence are essential for a full understanding of the context, the modern performer must also serve two crucial functions; they must maintain a healthy production that accommodates variety of styles, and they must successfully interpret the music for a contemporary audience. As with all performance practice decisions, this requires an acknowledgment of modern aesthetics and sophisticated musical interpretation as well as an informed surmise of the technical approaches of the original performers.

For example: several lines of evidence lead us to surmise that lute songs in early seventeenth-century England were often sung by members of the upper classes who did not receive professional training in singing. The performance conditions were likely to be intimate circles of acquaintances, and the artistic focus mainly placed on text delivery. While one might conclude that a very gentle, speech-like tone that may not have been evenly placed in the resonance could have been the predominant practice, a modern singer gains nothing from attempting to perform this repertoire this way. Rather, she should employ the strengths of her training to create a natural text delivery while also exploiting the resonance control and color palette of a professional vocalist; this might exceed the virtues of the original performer but would allow for interpretive subtlety that could speak to the composer’s intentions more completely than the historical performance could!