Part III, Journal of a Richard Miller Week

(Photo of Bach Invention #13 by Deborah Hurd)

This is Part III of sharing personal journal notes from five days of intensive teacher training with the great vocal pedagogue and singer, Richard Miller, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1994.  For Parts I and II, go HERE and scroll down.

It is interesting to compare these notes to what is available in pedagogy graduate programs now days. This information seems basic now, but 20 years ago it was new information.

Tuesday, May 24, 1994.

Early this morning I spoke with (the two year old) on the phone–Ma said she was drinking her bottle and smiling.  She wanted me to keep talking and talking! I sang her “baa baa black sheep.”

There’s not enough coffee in me yet but here goes….Nose breath valuable at the end of long phrases, like Brahms, Strauss to help avoid a noisy release.  Miller says you don’t need to breath in the shape of the vowel.  This is just extraneous movement.

Use “breath of expectancy,” don’t over open the soft palate–straight back from the soft palate is a bony ridge.

He emphasizes practicing daily onset/agility/sostenuto

Miller is passionate about the function of the solo voice in a choral setting.  (right on!)  “Choral music is vocal music!”  He cites Robert Fountain and Robert Shaw (two choral directors who were household names in my home.) I am smiling as he quotes Shaw’s philosophy–“you don’t blend voices…you balance voices.”  This means you must have a working physiology of the voice to direct a choir. (oh, ivory tower thoughts….so true but not reality…)

Use of consonants for adjustments of the vocal tract:
Insert I

We then practice this on our own for a few minutes to feel how the vocal tract is shaped with by these consonants.  It sounds like a bee hive exploded in here right now.

What I notice the most is that these consonants help the (a) vowel resonate toward the front of the mouth more, rather than getting caught in the back. (Then there are a  bunch of gibberish notes that I can not make sense of, followed by the phrase “Refer to Miller’s “Structure of Singing.”)

We stand and are led in some stretching exercises by a teacher from the group.  We divide into SATB and sing the exercises he has used all week in choral voicing.   He doesn’t stop to “correct,” but lets us sing and makes general comments.

He lectures on fundamentals, harmonics, overtones and partials.  His lecture is almost verbatim from his book “Training Soprano Voices,” which I have and had him autograph. I made notes in the margins.

Nasality permeates American culture in speaking, therefore, in singing.  (I wondered about this when he first mentioned ‘Sing as you Speak.”)

Insert 2

It is a mistake to build voices entirely on (i) or (u) Interesting, as I spent 3 years with (shall remain nameless) vocalizing only on (i).

Miller’s slides were put on glossies to be used with an overhead–clearer than slides.

Robert Merrill and Sam Ramey studied with the same teacher as Paul Plishka, Thomas Hampson and Leonard Warren.  (note from 2016.  I just looked this up because when I reread this, I couldn’t believe one teacher influenced Warren to Hampson, but Horst Gunther, baritone and teacher, was born 1913 and died in 2013!)

Miller mentions that there are not enough elite power singers used as subjects for voice science.  Which was another question I had earlier this week.

Afternoon masterclass–students from Belmont University–

20-yr-old soprano sings Mozart “Deh vieni, non tardar”  Miller:  recitative should have an arioso quality, not “secco.”  Needs longer vowels more in rhythm.  Establish a legato line in 6/8, 12/8, etc by singing one pitch for an entire phrase.  He insists on a consistent vibrato but doesn’t address that in more detail.  “Don’t die on the the dot.”

21-yr-old soprano sings Bach “My Heart Ever Faithful”  Miller uses

Insert 3

He uses the phrase “Stay with the same vowel” instead of “don’t close into nose” or zygomatic terminology.

(Then my mind wanders to making lists of logistics I need to take care of for upcoming vocal workshops I am teaching with The Washington Vocal Consortium.  

21-yr-old soprano sings Rossini “La Promessa”

intervalic leaps need blah blah blah to be connection.  (really? I wrote blah, blah, blah? I am not proud of this.  It must have been something obvious.)

Ricci calls singing in Italain with open (E) and (e) the “Julliard/Italian” school. Ending with these vowels needs to have the voice in a higher place, closer to (i)    Optional ending: end with “no” then jump to the upper octave on (a)

Soprano teacher sings Charpentier “Depuis Le Jour”

Make sure endings are (oe);  Bring nasals in later in vowel, but this doesn’t mean a dipthong.  He reiterates: don’t pull belly in as this restricts breath.  He wants “toute fleur–higher places, used (niu, niu, niu) into “toute”

It is fascinating to hear all these sopranos in one afternoon.  No wonder people don’t know “what” I am.  Miller spends a long time vowel-tracking this soprano, making sure she knows exactly what vowel she is on on any given note.

Baritone Teacher sings Paladihle Psyche (in the International French Collection of Songs)

Miller works with the note-to-note legato phrase, staying with basics of vowel and legato.  I am reminded of how important it is to keep drilling basics.  He uses the “mmm” to keep this baritone from pressing into his low notes.  He spends the whole time working vowel to vowel.

Mezzo Teacher sings the third song from Persian Poems by Santoliquido

He works the “sing as you speak” to help her change the shape of her vocal tract, which seems to be pulled out of shape in a sort of over-dark, fake mezzo place.  She is having a tough time with this because it feels so wrong.  He has her feel her submandibular region to help keep is soft while singing–

Insert 4

I spent time today passing notes back and forth with a teacher by the name of Peggy Swanson from New Hampshire.  We figured out that we are 4th cousins and that our common ancestor was the Rev. James Robinson Frazier!

Miller ends today’s session with the phrase “There are great differences between being a great teacher of singing and being a great singer. One does not necessarily ensure the other.”