The pedagogic theories espoused by Cornelius Reid over the course of a seventy year teaching and writing career are based on the works of the early teachers of the eighteenth century. The main focus of those masters was the vocal registers, the chest voice and the falsetto. To this Reid has added the insights provided by physiological research as to how the vocal mechanism works. In his research he discovered that the most efficient way to train the vocal mechanism was not by the institution of overt control systems, but by working indirectly. Since the muscles that bring the vocal folds into tension are involuntary, the entire mechanism must be treated as such.
Considered from this perspective, Reid’s training philosophy is founded on what amounts to an ecological principle, where the vocal mechanism is regulated and controlled by changes in the environmental conditions to which it is being exposed.
How is the correct environment chosen? By listening to the tonal product. Mechanically, the singing voice naturally divides into two distinguishably different qualities, or registers, known as the chest voice and the falsetto. The purpose of technical training is to develop and blend these two qualities so that the voice becomes a seamless entity. By working registrationally it is possible to equate what is heard with the probable balance of tension operative within the laryngeal musculature. On the basis of this analysis, a vocal exercise is created that is the most beneficial environment capable of serving the student’s growth needs.
How does this operative principle manifest itself? It becomes apparent by observing a series of equivalencies. For example: The vocal folds adjust their length, mass and tension to accommodate numerous combinations of the three basic tonal elements, pitch, intensity and vowel. Change the pitch and/or intensity and the vocal folds will adjust their physical dimensions accordingly. As a result, the antagonistic contractions of the muscle systems will correspondingly shift their ratio of tension to accommodate those changes. Change the vowel, and both the configuration of the vocal tract and the conformation of the vocal folds will also change, each change having a direct bearing on quality.
The equivalencies noted above can be worked into an exercise construct that invokes the above-mentioned principle. Thus, a specifically designed exercise will predictably result in a special type of vocal fold conformation whose dimensions will, in turn, be determined by the proportional amounts of tension assumed by the tensors of the vocal folds. It is within these relationships that the operative principle by which the vocal registers are governed is to be found.
“I have devoured the writings on voice by Cornelius Reid and visited one of his Master Classes in New York City. The most important thing one can learn from them all is to allow the voice to function according to one’s own particular instrument rather than making it happen. I have followed this practice all of my 50 years of singing.” –Grace Bumbry
The Cornelius L. Reid archive is comprised of 683 voice lessons and classes recorded in CD and DVD format, and is housed in the Moffett Library of Midwestern State University. New material is being added as it becomes available. The archive is available only on site. Arrangements to access the material can be made by contacting Allison Breen, reference librarian, at: 1-800-259-8518.
Questions about the archive may be directed to Dr. Don Maxwell, professor of music, Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Miss Bumbry also has this to say, “I cannot praise Cornelius Reid enough for giving us the audio/visual aids to the proper way of singing and hope that this material becomes obligatory reading, hearing and visual material for every serious school of music interested in the healthy voice.”
Functional vocal training is founded on the belief that a correct technique must be an extension of free organic movement; that such movement is the expression of a life process subject to nature’s laws; and that training procedures adopted must be based upon principles which conform to those laws. This premise is not widely accepted, most training methods preferring to concentrate on functional effects, rather than functional causes. This error has led to another misjudgment, even more serious; confusing the PROCESS of learning to sing with the ART OF SINGING. Procedures designed to restructure a faulty vocal technique, therefore, cannot have validity until a clear distinction is made between art, aesthetics and function.
To feel the tone in the mask, ‘forward,’ or at some point at the top of the head as many suggest involves no functional principal and offers nothing constructive to the training program. Specific symptoms of vibration are the result, not the cause, of muscular movement and the right ‘feel’ of the tone can only be experienced after the physical adjustment which gave rise to that sensation has first been made.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five, Aesthetic Judgment:
There are many influences at work in determining quality. But beyond such factors as technical condition, aesthetic goals, and musicality, there is a quality which is intrinsic to the personality and the mechanism itself. This “natural” quality is determined by anatomical structure, combined with peculiarities of temperament. The thickness of the vocal cords, the size and shape of the cavities of the mouth, throat, and head, all contribute to a state of being that fixes the boundaries of ultimate potential. The way the instrument is used, however, alters the character of the tonal emission and to a considerable extent leaves potential unrealized. According to the efficiency of the vocal response, quality will be either a true or false likeness of the intrinsic timbre. As the natural quality of the voice is almost always unknown because of mechanical imperfections, no attempt should ever be made during training to cultivate what is thought to be the natural quality. Genuine tone quality can only be revealed by purifying the vowel quality and correcting the imbalances within a maladjusted registration.
There is a fundamental functional distinction to be made between what seems to be nasal resonance and nasality. Nasal resonance (one of the ‘mere appearances’ referred to by Garcia) finds the throat relatively open with the so-called ’head’ register dominant. Under these conditions symptoms of vibration do appear to concentrate in the ‘masque,’ the area of the sinuses and the antrim. Symptoms, however, must never be confused with causes. Genuine resonance can only be achieved when the technique is open-throated and free of interfering tension, never by ‘placing’ the tone ‘forward’ or into the nasal passages. A common pedagogic error is to attempt to establish this freedom through resonance rather than registration.
Nasality is quite another matter. Without exception it is associated with throat constriction, and the proportion of nasality always corresponds exactly to the degree of constriction present in the tone. Few singers possess a technique of singing where the throat is really free and open and nasality is one of the more common vocal faults.
As summed up by eighteenth century authorities the ultimate goal of training was not only register unification, but success in combining the registers in such a way as to make the voice appear not only to be of one register, but to reflect the influence of the natural or chest voice. To quote Giambatista Mancini, “It is a rare case when the two registers are both united into a chest register in one person. This total union is generally produced only by study and the help of art.” Given this emphasis on the chest voice, it is important to understand the dynamics of this register in detail.