Bruson the Athlete!

You may know that I am a particular fan of the great Renato Bruson.  The more I listen with my current ears and sense, the more convinced I am that Bruson is perhaps the ultimate model for the young baritone singing Italian repertoire.  His voice seems very dark at first (it is), but that quality may be wrongly interpreted as forced or “manufactured.”  Quite the opposite is true, though, in my opinion.  Remember, my own opinions are the ones I generally write!  That’s why people blog.

I was in a barber shop, about a block from the Duomo in Florence, enjoying my first Italian haircut (what singer doesn’t want “Italian hair?!”).  The 2 barbieri were playing cassettes of Sinatra and Perry Como; Como, at least, was a shocking choice.  In my best Italian, I asked, “Who is the greatest Italian baritone?”  Immediately, without the slice of an ear, the answer rang out: “Bruson!”

I have a CD of Maestro Bruson singing hits from the 17th and 18th Century “yellow book.”  (He even does an impressive performance of “Se tu m’ami.”)  The first time I heard the disc, I  began to sing along.  My Bruson education accelerated when I realized that he was actually singing in medium high keys much of the time–quite higher than his timbre had led me to believe.  Knowing that warmth and darkness of tone result from so-called “head resonance,” I have reconsidered my younger (less seasoned) opinions of his singing, and I now realize that Bruson is a superb and lyrical singer, a master of Bel Canto technique.  It feels fabulous to empathize with this singer!

I find the following quote to be very illuminating as to how Maestro Bruson employs his athleticism to wonderful effect, delivered through the medium of artistic imagination: “I am self critic enough to understand what I can get at. Since I knew I did not have a thundering voice to make coarse effects, I sought the interpretation since I think it is more important that the public go home with something in their hearts than some sounds in their ears.”

This YouTube excerpt of Bruson’s Rodrigo (Don Carlo, the death scene) demonstrates visually and aurally the strength and coordination that this monumental artist has developed.  Viva Bruson!

ps — One of my regrets is that I never heard Bruson sing live; to my knowledge, he has retired from singing.  In summer of 2002, I was in Verona, at a performance of Nabucco in the Arena.  The program book listed him in that role the previous summer, 2001.  Timing is important.

Voice of the Mind

I subscribe to Classical Singer, a monthly, now-slick, printed magazine for classical singers (obviously enough).  In fact, I began reading it in the early 1990s, when it was the New York Opera Newsletter.  The subscription rate is somewhat high, but probably worth it for most of you who read this.  It may be found online at In addition, find the article at Dr. Jahn’s own site:

One of the best–if not the best–feature(s) in the magazine is the regular column by Dr. Anthony Jahn.  Dr. Jahn is head of the medical staff at the Metropolitan Opera, one of the world’s leading laryngologists, and he is affiliated with us at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, through periodic visits to consult and examine students.  I have seen Dr. Jahn in his Roseland, NJ, office (also an office in Manhattan), and know him to be a personable, direct, and ultra-capable physician.

The February 2009 Classical Singer issue includes Dr. Jahn’s article, “Mind Control.”  Rather than rehash all the article’s points, I refer you to Classical Singer.  I am bringing my copy to the studio.  You will also find the magazine in Talbott Library at WCC.

Essentially, Dr. Jahn makes clear the difference between the brain and “the mind.”  He describes connections between mind and body–conscious control of reflexive neuromuscular activities (like laryngeal position and breathing), also hormonal influences.  These hormonal factors come courtesy of the thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, and so forth, delivered through the bloodstream.  Apparently, the mind (cortex) prompts the hypothalamus to activate those hormones that are needed in singing/performing.

This gets complex, but Dr. Jahn’s entire article is perhaps more clear and easily understood than my efforts to summarize it.  You should read “Mind Control” to understand the connections between technique and performance more deeply.

I recently skimmed an essay containing a long list of things to think about while singing.  In the ordinary sense of left-brain thinking, I strongly disagree with that writer’s approach.  “Thinking with your body,” though, is one way that I like to verbalize the process Dr. Jahn describes of making a mind/body connection.

I will write future posts along these lines, but for now here are 2 points:

1. There are occasional times that a singer chooses to think specifically about technique–a particular note, phrase, or section.  Boris Goldovsky called these “razor blade moments,” when the singer must be keenly attentive to an essential task.  Always (even alongside these moments of specific technical intention), the imagination is allowed to coordinate multiple tasks into a fluid process that seems easy, cohesive, spontaneous, honest, and ultimately convincing.

2. Singing in lessons, coachings, rehearsals and in the practice room is largely about learning to allow body and voice to perform under the guidance of the mind/imagination.  Understanding technical goals and their execution is prerequisite to the training that takes place, often over an extended period of time–however long is needed for that technique to become consistent, to become “second nature.”  In this undertaking, patience is not only a virtue, it is a must.

As both the body and the mind become stronger, it is easier for the imagination to artfully blend vocal and interpretive techniques into the performances that you dream of.  More to come, EE