Thoughts Around Great Singing
by Linda Esther Gray & Ian Partridge
publ. 2019, 246 pp
Green Oak Publishing
This is not a singing textbook, but rather, as the authors themselves put it, ‘musings to share with singers, audiences, teachers and coaches’.
The authors are Linda Esther Gray and Ian Partridge, two very different types of singer: Gray, a dramatic soprano from the world of opera, whose association with Reginald Goodall and the operas of Wagner will still be a vivid memory for many; and Partridge, mellifluous lyric tenor of great integrity, well-known for his song recitals and oratorio performances, particularly as a superb Evangelist in the Bach Passions.
This difference is the strength of the book, which came together as a result of recorded conversations about singers and singing, revealing both common ground and differences of opinion. As the authors say right at the start, ‘voices are as individual as people’.
The main part of the book is divided into six sections, covering Text & Language, Interpretation, Practising and Rehearsing, Performing, Listening, and Emotional Awareness (mnemonic: TIPPLE!). What makes the advice here so assimilable is that it comes from the accumulated experience of two long careers, first as practising singers and subsequently as teachers, aware of the needs – both vocal and emotional – of young singers entering the profession. Before all of this, there is a preliminary section in which Gray and Partridge introduce themselves, and it is interesting to see how two different individuals, from different areas of the country (Gray from Scotland, Partridge from south-east England), began to sing and then entered the music profession, in ways very different and probably more natural than today’s regulated degree-orientated pathways.
The personal reminiscence draws on the authors’ work with fellow singers, conductors, and others, and there are recommendations of past and present ‘great’ singers to listen to, performing particular pieces to illustrate a special quality (e.g., John McCormack for his sense of line). This is very valuable as a potent illustration of points made, which will then be immediately apparent to the intelligent (and perhaps not so intelligent) learner.
To facilitate this, there is
an associated website, which provides links to the actual recordings recommended. (Although each author has different preferences, I’m delighted to see one name common to both – Kenneth McKellar – a wonderful singer, particularly of Handel. As Ian Partridge says, ‘He let the voice speak’.)
Those of us with long memories will enjoy being reminded of the many excellent qualities of past singers, but perhaps the book – as well as its good practical advice – will help to inform young singers of the rich heritage they inherit, for so many of them appear completely unaware of even recent distinguished forebears whose torch they inherit and should carry. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, ‘Singing that forgets its past has no future’.
As the authors state, ‘Perhaps the thoughts in this book will start a discussion among our readers about the part we all play as performers, teachers and audiences’. I hope it will.