The Forest for the Trees…


Evan Bortnick

Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden

One of my very favorite subjects AND NOT ONLY IN SINGING is the play between Simplicity and Complexity!!!!!  These are both relative terms, of course. Saying something is complex or to keep something simple is a so-called “Comparative Deletion”. It may sound good, but you really have no idea what’s meant until an understandable and agreed upon range is established. Simplicity and complexity occur along a continuum. In other words, one woman’s simplicity is another woman’s complexity.

Even assuming we could agree on what ‘simplicity’ or ‘complexity’ is, how much is optimum in any given stage of a singer’s training and development??? I’m a great lover of simplicity, when it’s appropriate. When it’s not, it’s just DUMBING DOWN!!!! I also love (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) complexity, when it’s appropriate. When it’s not, it’s just ANALizing, a form of mental masturbation……”a tale….told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, SIGNIFYING NOTHING!!!” To be sure, I’ve erred on both sides of the coin from time to time.

In my preparations for a recent course on the history of Vocal Pedagogy, I’ve come to the belief that one way to divide the ‘schools’ of thinking about singing is:

1. The KISS (“Keep It Simple Stupid”) – No Effort” School of thinking, and

2. The “Singing is Muscular – Great Effort” School of thinking (oder zu Deutsch AZB: “Arschbacken Zusammen und Beten!”).

Those I’ve encountered in the “KISS”-school often have an extreme aversion to anatomy and the complexities of the physical instrument. Those I’ve encountered in the GreatEffort school emphasize the athletic, anatomical aspects of singing and too often (at least for my taste) lose the ‘art’ in the art form.

Both are, of course, exaggerated approaches and both seem to have many devotees. “Please don’t confuse the students with all those different muscles!” or “just take a meditative Breath and everything else will fall into place”)… are examples of a hard-liner KeepItSimple bias. “raise your soft palate”, “Lower your larynx”, relax the tongue”, purse your lips”, different examples of the anatomical effortful school.

Just for fun, let’s apply the KeepItSimple ideology to other areas of a singer’s training:

— “Why should singers learn all those quarter notes and half notes and sixteenth notes? It’ll only confuse them when they’re singing. Keep it simple, have someone sing at them and they’ll learn it by heart!”

— “Sub-dominant, Dominant, Tonic….come on! Way too complex. Don’t waste time learning any form of music theory. Keep it simple, just enjoy singing!”

— “Baroque, classic, romantic, tonal, atonal, bel canto, verismo, French, Russian,  German,….Why in heaven should a singer learn all these complicated styles. Keep it simple…Just go with the natural feeling of the music. That’s all you really need to know.”

…or let’s apply it to other creative artistic endeavors:

—“What? You’re really learning about lenses, shutter speeds, aperture, reciprocity failure and focal depth? How complicated! You want to take nice pictures? Just point the camera and shoot and enjoy the natural process of making art!”

One the other hand, many is the young natural talent who has been bogged down with unnecessarily complex ideals and models of ‘Register’, ‘Support’, ‘Sitz”, “Fach” and much else. This is just what many a ‘functional’ pedagogy student has trouble understanding; it is possible to introduce an overly complex model to a young, naturally talented singer, then spend years hunting down an animal in the jungle WHICH YOU YOURSELF HAVE RELEASED!

We can err as teachers in both directions! The point is this: Artists learn their handiwork first. It is ALWAYS complicated at first (or seems that way). With time and practice our brains, muscle memory and artistic and emotional intelligence INTEGRATES so that, however complicated it may have seemed at first, when in “FLOW” the execution becomes simple. In other words; learn the muscles and the bones and the muscle chains and groups and the functions and their causes and their effects like any artist learning their instrument. With time and practice it will occur on a high level of unconscious competence….it will go into auto-pilot. No singer thinks consciously about quarter notes and sixteenth notes, or if Beethoven was a classical or a romantic composer, or secondary diminished seventh chords, or ileo-psoas, crico-thyroideus, levator labii muscles while they are singing. HOWEVER as a skilled craftsman as well as artist, they CAN think about these things while preparing a role, IF they’ve learned and integrated the details.

DISCIPLINE IS FREEDOM. It’s always been so! And Discipline involves learning and integrating complicated details when and if they serve the mechanism and the art!

Evan Bortnick

Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden

About evanb54

I'm a passionate, curious learning junkie--- an X-Opera Singer turned Voice Teacher, Voice Teachers Teacher, NLP Lehrtrainer, Off-Path Coach, Cranio-Sacral worker and a few other even less mainstream things. Everything I've learned or taught revolves around THE VOICE. The Voice as a tool of artistic expression. The Voice as a tool of emotional transparency. The voice as a tool of flexible communication. More information can be found at my Institute Site: The Wiesbaden Academy of the Vocal Muse Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden, Coaching, Voice Pedagogy
This entry was posted in Art, Audition, Authenticity, Concentration, Fitness, Lessons, Listening, Mental Training, Music, Opera, Pedagogy, Performance, Self Expression, Singing, Teaching, Voice and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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