Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Approaching the Wonderment of Bel Canto

Because it is passed from teacher to student in such intimate and personal disciplines, Bel Canto is and always will be a mysterious, almost secret art. Many attempts have been made to explain the greatness of Bel Canto, and none have been truly adequate.

I liken it to the old parable about the group of blind men who were introduced to an elephant for the first time, and then they were asked to explain to others what an elephant was. The first blind man approached the elephant from its side and touched the animal’s large body with tough skin. He reported that an elephant is like a house. The second blind man felt one of the elephant’s legs and said: "It is a tree." The third blind man found the elephant’s tail and claimed that an elephant was a rope. The fourth blind man ran his hands up and down the elephants tusks– a spear! And the last blind man caught hold of the animal’s trunk and proclaimed that an elephant is a hosepipe. All of the men had good reason for their explanations, but none of them could fully comprehend all there was to know about an elephant.

So it is with the wonderment of Bel Canto. Various teachers and even accomplished Bel Canto singers have written about their understanding of Bel Canto as an art. In each book or article it is fairly easy to see that every person has managed to find something of themselves inside the art of Bel Canto, and they share that part of themselves as part and parcel of their respective definitions of "Bel Canto."

It was the same for me when I was a young lad studying Bel Canto with my teacher Julian Miller. I meditated continually about the work we were doing to clear away my vocal difficulties. I strove for consistency to be able to sing with the ease and clarity and well-pronounced phrases I was learning. I wanted to find a way to keep hold of those skills throughout my career without ever straying from the true meaning of Bel Canto.

And finally I found my answer within myself. I discovered I could get hold of all of the phrasing, inflection and precision inherent in Bel Canto singing and integrate them with ease as soon as I realized that singing Bel Canto was all about telling the story.

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