Ian Anderson 2:16 p.m., March 18
Scooping is Bad Singing?
I've heard many a person talk about scooping and how bad it is.
I'm not sure where this idea comes from but I think I have a pretty good idea.
Most of the singing many of us have done has been in a choral setting. I should say most of the formal singing we've done has been in choirs, be they school or church.
Therefore, most of the vocal instruction we’ve been exposed to has come from choir directors. The choir director is the one with their butt on the line. If the choir sounds bad, it must be the director’s fault.
With that in mind, many choir directors will go for a clean sound because it is easier to accomplish than a legato line.
I should explain what legato is. Legato is an Italian word which means” tied together”.
This means each note is tied to both the preceding and following note.
A well produced legato line is beautiful but rarely recognized by the casual listener. We will notice if something sounds choppy but a true legato goes unnoticed unless we know to listen for it.
In a choir, except for accomplished, professional groups, getting everybody to tie the notes together is a herculean task for the director. Often there just isn’t enough rehearsal time to accomplish it.
We cannot apply the rules of choral singing to solo singing. In opera, specifically Italian Opera, the composer often asks for a portamento by placing a curved line above a series of notes.
A portamento means sliding from one note to the next. This often occurs when the syllables of a word occur on different pitches. In order to maintain the legato, the singer is supposed to connect the notes within the word.
If a singer is lazy about it, the portamento sounds sloppy.
With a portamento, all the little notes between the two principle pitches must be energized, in tune, and contain vibrato consistent with the rest of the signer’s voice.
The very best singers know how to “hide” a portamento behind the consonants in a phrase.
The constants l, m, n, r, and v can all carry tone. If a word begins or ends with these consonants, a skilled singer will slide the voice from word to word.
When a solo singer understands this, they can create a legato line that is stunning.
In my opinion, Mirella Freni was one of the best legato singers. Here she is singing Vissi d'arte from Tosca. In the opening phrase, observe how she connects the notes in the words, "d'arte" and 'd'amore". The first high phrase, at the 0:42 mark, is "Quante miserie conobbi aiutai." Her ability to make that sound seamless is artistry of the highest level.
To give an example of a good singer who doesn't understand legato quite as well, here is Kim Hughes. The first three minutes of this video, Ms. Hughes explains the circumstances of the aria. She does a great job. What we are listening for is the difference in the phrasing. In the first phrase, she doesn't actively connect the notes in "d'arte" and "d'amore" which makes them end a little bit flat. This is the subtle difference we're looking for. Those nano seconds between pitches become unsupported and off the breath which robs them of the vibrancy that Freni maintains. It isn't fair to compare Ms. Hughes to Freni. What I wanted to find was a singer who has a great voice, adequate technique and diction but was missing the last layer of polish. That last layer is the legato.