1. To hit high notes, pretend there’s a marble between your butt cheeks and squeeze it. (From my high school chorus teacher. After my 10th grade year, my family moved from Fairfax County, Virginia, which has one of the top school music programs in the US, to an Army Base in Germany, where one minimally talented woman struggled to run a marching band, a chorus, and an a cappella singing group. I signed up for all of them, naively expecting something similar to what I’d left behind. When I showed up on the first day of school, first period, for the chorus class, I discovered that I was the only boy to have enrolled.* Luckily, I played the piano, so they made me accompanist. Luckily, this saved me from singing with the “marble theory.” Unluckily, the same woman led the a cappella group, where I learned to strain after high notes with the rest of them.)
*I didn’t yet know that in Army society, males don’t participate in the arts. This ugly truth was driven home to me many years later when I was in the Army myself. I had won a regional talent competition by singing a duet from West Side Story with Toni–hi, Toni!–and qualified for the All-Army Show, which toured Army bases all over the world. My commander denied me the authorization to participate, letting me know that if it had been a sports championship, of course I would have been allowed to go. Well, I got back at them by not Telling when they Asked. Twice.
2. Just sing. (From a teacher whom I met in Bremen, Germany, and worked with for maybe a year. She gave me this supremely vague direction whenever something wasn’t working in my voice. At least it spared us having to deal with difficult issues like registration, resonance, and vowels.)
3. To achieve a properly lowered larynx, grab your adam’s apple between your fingers and pull it down while singing. (Another teacher in Bremen had me doing this. He, a tenor, assured me (falsely, as it turned out) that I was a tenor too. I managed to scream up to high D’s while tugging on my larynx, so I guess he thought he was onto something. I feel lucky to have any voice at all after submitting to his bizarre practices.)
4. When you breathe in, your torso should contract. (From a very well-known American soprano who had a long career at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. She was a marvelous, marvelous, marvelous singer, but a worse than worthless teacher, who had no idea how she did what she did. I could see when she demonstrated her technique to me that she was not doing what she thought she was doing, but if I even dared to question this, she became furious and threatened to throw me out for not trusting her. My breathing became so damaged by my attempts to carry out her nonsensical instructions that I completely lost my ability to sing. In one audition, when I attempted the opening phrase from an aria from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, only a breathy sort of croaking noise came out of my mouth. They told me that I could possibly join the chorus in a very, very small opera house.)
5. To support the tone, your back muscles must engage so strongly as to become hard. (From another well-known American singer at the Deutsche Oper, their leading Verdi baritone, in fact. In my lessons, he had me put my hands on his back muscles while he demonstrated their strength. I believe he enjoyed this very much, as I was in my twenties at the time, and probably pretty cute.)
Thank goodness I eventually found my way to Cornelius Reid, who showed me the way to vocal truth and sanity.
Does anyone out there know of any area of knowledge more fraught with misconceptions and bad advice than singing?