Recent Articles from the NEC Vocal Pedagogy Blog
Unmasking Dame Nellie Melba’s Vibrato: The Challenge of Drawing Technical Conclusions from Historical Recordings
Acoustic recordings from the technological “bleeding edge” of the early twentieth century present opportunities to study celebrated voices from the past; yet, they raise challenging performance practice issues when our perceptions of stylistic and technical choices contradict our received aesthetic norms.(1) While tempo, rubato, and phrasing preferences change over time, the conflict between how singers sounded then versus now is perhaps best illuminated when we consider vibrato. Adelina Patti, Dame Nellie Melba, Enrico Caruso, Evan Williams, and many other elite turn of the twentieth century singers all exhibit rather ‘un-modern’ sounding vibratos on their acoustic recordings; either too fast, seemingly muted, or non-existent. This pilot study uses a novel sonic analysis technique to begin to question our ability to draw actionable technical conclusions regarding vibrato from what we hear on historical recordings.
When training young classical singers, teachers must assign repertory that respects their tessitura, or average comfortable singing range. As the voice matures, this tessitura will shift due to both training and the aging process, and many singers change their repertory over the course of their career. In this study, we chose six arias from roles Ms. Leontyne Price sang over the course of her career. By applying a method of statistical analysis developed by Alberto Pacheco, we were able to define the approximate tessitura of each aria. While not a comprehensive assessment of her voice, when placed in chronological order according to the year Ms. Price debuted the role (and, one would assume, the year she felt capable of performing the role), these data begin to suggest the way in which her voice may have changed over time.
Voice scientists and an increasing number of voice teachers and vocal pedagogy students utilize a cheap and widely available tool called a spectrograph. A spectrograph is a software (they used to be huge dedicated machines) that analyzes sound, splits it into its component harmonics, and displays this information visually in an image called a spectrogram. A spectrogram is, then, a visual representation of a sound. This article seeks to explain how to read a spectrogram, and introduces the basic concepts that allow us to find meaning in what we see.