Music and Feeling: An Inquiry into the Relationship of Notation and Technique by Daniel Durand


Singing is speech that results in pitch. It is not like speech; it is speech. The difference between singing and speech is: For a vowel to resonate into pitch, the speaker needs more space for resonation and more air to support the extra space. When those conditions are met, the singer speaks with the exact same emotional inflections of ordinary speech as given by the composer's notation. What takes so many years to achieve artistry is the necessity to develop accurate feelings so that the space does not implode or collapse in the process and the vowel does not go into space, i.e. spread. These principles are exactly the same for wind players, without words distorting the relationship between the oral cavity and the embouchure and mouthpiece.

To emphasize, singing is speech amplified by the resonance of space and bone. For singers the problem of being understood is mostly misunderstood. The resonance is passive and the diction is active. The more impassive the space and the more connected to the breath, the more active the speech must be, though the space must remain unmoved. In other words, it means that the active diction cannot and must not cause the resonance to move. If the space is adjusted for diction, the musical line undergoes quality control and the singer goes off the voice. If the vowel and not the consonant is the springboard to the pitch, then the constant readjustment of the resonators caused by exaggerating the movement of the jaw, tongue, and lips for consonants (known as chewing) must be avoided because the vowel requires resonance for it to allow pitch to achieve tonal beauty. An objective ear will notice that when singers chew, their comprehensibility is lessened, not increased. Consonants must be spoken with the chin down so that lateral processes of the lips are avoided. Americans are notorious for spread consonants which lead all too easily to spread vowels.

Good diction is a result of factors of release, not an increase of activity of the mouth. The attempts of coaches and conductors to achieve comprehensible dic­tion by the latter means are doomed to failure. The effects of vocal music are rooted in the score, and even in exciting music, the excitement is in the music, not in its execution by an excited performer

Worse, singers who sing music instead of speaking or who sing their technique instead of speaking contradict the very thing that is the springboard to the creation of the music. The music is then shunted aside in favor of a concept of beautiful sound carefully con­trolled. However, vocal musical sound is a result of many factors which grow organically from a text set by a composer who speaks in a language of words for his everyday communication and who knows what that means when impelled to the compositional process by the Muse.

Very simply, clear diction is a result of the independence of the tongue and lips from the space in which the voice resonates. As just stated, sloppy diction practices are avoided by speaking consonants with the chin down. Scripture is very consistent in noting that the mouth opens to show forth praise, but it is the tongue that speaks. Note that the tongue speaks and the sound goes forth. Good diction comes from the tongue, not from excessive lip action which tries to make diction happen willfully prior to the emotional impulse. Such intellectual control interferes with musical expression because it cuts off the performer from the emotions which initiate the impulse to speak.

The better approach to diction precludes shaping a vowel before speaking it. When the voice phonates and the tongue articulates, then the lips move. To shape the lips before phonation is a kind of control and takes the singer off the voice. After all, the voice causes the lip motion; the lips do not cause the voice. All vowels must be articulated within the shape of o in the oral cavity. This is easy enough for ah eh and o, but ay (not a diphthong) and ee are problematic. Keeping the chin down alleviates the difficulty and helps keep the resonance from moving.

Speech is a vehicle for the communication of thought and feeling, diction is a result and effect of speech. But emotion delivers the effects; there is no need for any control except the composer's score. What is called diction should never be anything more than the result of speaking clearly without moving one's resonances, principally the shape of o in the oral cavity. That shape allows the larynx the freedom necessary for consistent speech. Wind players also have to maintain the resonance of the mouth and throat without moving by being aware of the larynx at all times. When notes go up the staff, the standing player must feel his feet (singers and all instrumentalists need to be aware of their feet at all times as part of their bodily well being). In our modern world of sound control, feeling the feet is an oddity, but it works. The larynx much more easily stays without rising with the the pitch, helping the whole process of expression to remain linear.

The relationship between diction and notation is interesting. One knows from the notation what the emotional aspects of the rhythms and pitches are and activates them with the speaking voice, which is used exactly as if it were not going to result in music. The result is a deeper musical experience and expression because the music is not being circumscribed by will, which is engaged in activating the voice. In other words, the work of the will is to activate the voice (or instrument), not the music. (Good stage directors tell their singers not to sing the music!) Emotions activate the knowledge of the music into communicability by the voice (or instrument). Further, the composer's emotional inflections act with and impel the performer's neutral state of well-being into a musically expressive experience.

Here is a good place to point out the fatuousness of the argument as to whether the text or the music is more important. Referring to the stile recitativo e representativo, Monteverdi said that speech is the mistress, not the servant, of music, but he said speech, not words not text. In the sense of emotion in singing, that is correct. The words trigger the composer's musical emotions, and the only way that those emotions can be reproduced from the notation by the performers is through the faculty of speech. While the words are subordinate to the music (because the music is the spiritual, psychological, and artistic enlargement of the text, as well as the reason we are undergoing all these complex feelings), the delivery of speech takes precedence because the text was the springboard into the music of the composer in the first place.

Speech is a left brain function and music is a right brain function. Furthermore, while the poetic function is right brain, any analysis of the poetic intent or result is a left brain function. When the music is known and the text is spoken so that music results, it is clear that music can only prevail by the performer's leaving the music alone to function as it needs. That implies that the music is always the required result, but the result is arrived at by means other than itself .

Instrumentalists also must follow the same prin­ciple of leaving the music to function on its own. The music is a right brain function, and playing the instrument is a left brain function. The feelings generated from the music inform the player, but if the brain moves the music to the left brain through analysis or knowledge, the music is no longer free to express its fullness.

This question will be further explored below in chapter V, "The Void".