NATS Journal of Singing
Bookshelf by Debra Greshner
Herbert Burtis, Vocalizing from the Ground up!
Alberti Productions, $30.00 (USD) plus $4.00 postage and handling.
This book is a companion volume to the author’s earlier book, Sing On! Sing On! A guide to the Life-Long Enjoyment of the Voice (ECS Publications, Boston MA, 1992; reviewed in JOS 51, no.1 [Sept/Oct 1994]) Burtis directs the reader to the first book for detailed information about vocal technique and specific vocal problems. Vocalizing from the Ground Up! is primarily concerned with vocalises and diction, and is addressed to advanced students and teachers. The book includes two compact discs that provide aural models of all the exercises.
The text consists of twelve brief chapters, with none longer than twenty pages. In the first chapter, Burtis defines vocalization as a gathering of mind, body, breath, and, above all, energy. He reviews relaxation, posture, breath, and resonance in short chapters, while the longest chapters are devoted to vocalises, vowels and consonants. The vocal exercises cover the gamut of singing technique, from Messa di voce to fioratura, and from scale passages to large leaps.
In the diction chapters, Burtis proffers a brief explanation of the formation of each IPA sound. For Italian, German, and French sounds not found in English, native speakers recite examples on the accompanying discs. Diphthongs and triphthongs each merit a separate chapter. Finally there are chapters on how to learn a song and final thoughts from the author about singing and its study.
The writing is that of an active teacher who is accustomed to stating concepts in a clear, concise manner and with a dollop of humor. Each chapter is titled with an adaptation of a popular song; for instance, ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that ping’ heads the chapter on resonance. The laconic explanations are filled with statements such as ‘Use the breath, it’s no good tomorrow’, and other homespun dictums. The axioms succinctly encapsulate the author’s pedagogical principles; for example, ‘The more sound you release freely, the more sound you’ll have to sing with,’ and ‘Do not
push the voice…allow the energy to carry you…’ Burtis maintains that the ability to produce a comfortable nasal sound and well-focused hum is the beginning of vocal wisdom, and prefers the term ‘focus the voice’ to ‘place the voice’. In the diction section, Burtis uses terms like ‘plosive’ and ‘fricative’, but depends upon the reader to use the context to define the words. Nor are there any of the standard charts categorizing vowels and consonants by their formation. All this contributes to make this book seem less like a textbook and more like a manual- and that may lead a singer to consult it more frequently.
The chapter on how to learn a song would be helpful to beginning students, or to anyone how has never learned an effective procedure for tackling new repertoire. But perhaps the most useful discussion of this book is found in the last chapter where the author explains that vocalization is a process which allows a singer to discover comfortable singing. Every singer must determine which vocalises afford a sense of vocal freedom with the least effort. “There is no divine law of vocalization’, warns Burtis, “You must catalogue your technique as you explore your singing place’. Moreover, each voice is a unique instrument, and it is essential that teachers catalogue many ideas and images to prevent ‘cookie cutter’ pedagogy. A teacher, while needing to have an agenda for developing the best in each student, must approach that person as an individual, not as a slavish follower of a ‘method’.
The succinct nature of this book makes it very practical. The purpose for each vocalise is clearly stated, while the diction exercises are concise and aided immensely by the compact discs. Although there are some background noises on a few tracks, the overall quality of the recording is good. The book is compact, well-organized, and based on extensive experience; both students and pedagogues may find it useful.
"Sing On! Sing On!"
A guide for the Life-Long Enjoyment of the Voice
is published by ECS Publications, Boston, MA USA, and
may be ordered by contacting either the
or the publisher.
A Guide to the Life-long Enjoyment of the Voice
|Reviews: "Teacher says 'Sing On!'"|
"When should a singer give up singing? The answer, according to a new book by a Boston singing teacher is 'never'. In 88 witty, wise and well-written pages, Herbert Burtis treats the subject of vocal pedagogy from a variety of standpoints, including how the voice changes over time.
Burtis makes the point that many singers have retained significant abilities throughout their lives, thanks to proper training and use of the voice. One of his examples is the late Olga Averino of Boston, whom he recalls sounding just fine at the age of 91.
Burtis pulls no punches, but he also makes his points with humor and style. He coins phrases like "sneaky breathing" and "The Muscle Beach School of Vocal Production."
He is also likely to begin instructions for an "experiment" with a phrase like "Place your fingers as low on your abdomen as is permitted in polite society."
"Sing On! Sing On!" is published in paperback by the Boston firm of ECS Publications.
The book is aimed at singers, but non-singers will enjoy the many anecdotes and stories as well as the opportunity to have the mysterious art of singing made a little less mysterious."
Boston Sunday Herald, 1993
"I recall with great pleasure my association with Herbert Burtis at Union Theological Seminary and other performing institutions many years ago. I found him to be a gentleman of talent with a delightful sense of humor. Now, many years later, he has written his first book which also displays his talent and delightful sense of humor. I am sure you will enjoy Sing On! Sing On! as much as I did.
Author, A Singer's Manual of English Diction
The NATS Journal said this about Sing On! Sing On!:
"'If music be the food of love, sing on.' And on and on, according to the promises made by Mr. Burtis, although in this practical little manual, prospects for vocal longevity are premised upon criteria considerably less vague and esoteric than those described in Purcell's text.
This is a homey, down-to-earth handbook, written in a conversational, unpresupposing style. Fascinating chapter titles capture the reader's attention and focus upon issues in unique ways. In Chapter 3, "Now That I've Got It, what Do I Do With It?", Burtis deals with the intimacy of the voice, a concept not often enough taken into account, and, in discussing vowels shaped by the arch of the tongue, he unobtrusively introduces the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Within the context of the sixteen short chapters, pedagogical principles are frequently so casually and unobtrusively introduced- the problem of passaggio is a prime example- that the reader suddenly becomes aware the s/he has grasped a matter without the usually concomitant struggle. This is perhaps the books most unique quality, rendering it a kind of master class in print, one that contains a host of useful suggestions for healthy singing."
-Richard Dale Sjoerdsma
From the Music Educators Journal:
"A performer and teacher, Burtis discusses techniques and ideas he has used in coaching singers for forty years. He stresses musicality and beautiful tones over volume and explains the use of mental images, "silly singing" vocalises, and relaxation exercises for the voice and body."
To order books:
- Send a Postal Money order to Herbert Burtis, Rood Hill Farm, Sandisfield, MA 01255
- Include your mailing address, phone number and email address.
- Sing On! Sing On! is $15.00, plus $2.00 postage and handling.
- Vocalizing from the Ground Up! is $35.00, plus $4.00 postage and handling.
- How to make your Arm into a Wet Noodle is $40.00, plus $4.00 postage and handling.
And don't miss Mr. Burtis' newest books:
Take Two Deep Breaths and Call me in the Morning - available from the author for $20.00 plus $4.00 shipping and handling.
(Also available as a Kindle Edition from Amazon.com for $9.99)
Case Studies in Vocal Pedagogy - available from the author for $20.00 plus $4.00 shipping and handling. (Also available as a Kindle Edition from Amazon.com for $9.99)
An unsolicited review of Case Studies in Vocal Pedagogy and Take Two deep Breaths and Call me in the Morning:
I live in a little town called Howe, Texas, about 60 miles north of Dallas. I am 48 and have been singing most of my life but really applied myself to it in 1988. in 1974, I taught myself how to play guitar and would sing along with it and considered myself a guitar player who could sing. After 1988, I considered myself a singer who could play guitar. In fact, when I was auditioning for bands, I would audition as a singer (with no luck.) Dallas is a hard town in which to be original.
By trade, I am an electrician and am now office manager and operations manager for an electrical sub-contractor. But I have always sang, sometimes good, sometimes, not so good. And, in the last few years of hanging around a vocalist forum, I have gone through many changes and encountered many strange attitudes. And reading your book, "Case studies in vocal pedagogy" was a breath of fresh air, if you will pardon the pun. And so now, I am reading your book "Take Two Breaths ...." So much wisdom in such a short amount of time. And it echos the wisdom I read in Dr Fillebrown's main book.
For I, too, have tried appoggio, and it makes me pitchy (sharp.) But the other big thing that has really freed me and now all of what I sing is bright and ringy and easy is learning to accept my voice. Which does not mean I am lazy. In fact, I have a whole bunch of "work" to do as I re-learn songs that I used to sing in a way that was not correct for my voice. And that is realizing that I am not, never have been, a baritone. I am a tenor, pop, rock, whatever, though I have been accused of having an operatic voice. I don't think so. Opera is a particular sound ideal with challenges all its own and not everyone has the right voice for opera, no matter how well they sing. And that hurts some feelings. As does accepting what one's voice does.
Out there in the world of the forums are a bunch of baritones who want badly to sing mid to high tenor range and spend lots of money on singing systems from other baritones who manage some high notes. Granted, voices can have more range than initially thought by a student. But there are limits. There is the natural range, wherein you have your lowest and highest sounds that can be created. Within that somewhere, is the artistic range, where your tessitura shines most. As one fellow put it, it's where you have the greatest dynamic freedom in volume and tone.
And it's hard to tell what some of these baritones are doing. The ones that put up good recordings, well, those recordings are recorded and mixed like professional product, using chained compressors and other effects, reverb, echo, delay, which are all neat effects, especially in modern music. Where as I just hit record and hit a ringing note so loud that I flatten the mic response and it starts clipping, not to mention the established fact that analog sounds such as voice lose half the signal when recorded into a digital format. The only way to truly hear a person is to hear them in person.
I've never had voice lessons, though my step-grandfather, who sang dramatic bass in church choir and church musicals, would teach me what he knew. Granted, the advice was haphazard but I was also infected with the idea that would sound low, like him, one day. But I never did. In adolescence, my voice never cracked. During my teen years, I sounded like a woman, at least on the phone, and had to inform a few people they were actually talking to a male.
Giving up the baritone dream has freed me so much. My lowest usable note, if I concentrate, is a C3. Below that is low volume and raspy. I can barely fry and only audible to me by plugging my ear at approx G2. That's more like a gutteral throat clearing. F#2, nothing but air. But I can sing a C6 if I stay relaxed.
Everything you said is spot on. And man, you really resonated with me, if you will pardon another pun, when you pointed out that so many desire to make singing so complicated and full of effort. As though, if they are not straining and wearing themselves out, they are not doing enough. I can sing all of the Led Zeppelin catalog without vocal distortion or rasp from album I thorugh V (the ones I was most familiar with as a young man) and have been told that I am not doing enough with my voice. Go figure ...
Anyway, thanks for writing and keep it up.
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You can e-mail Mr. Burtis and Alberti Productions at email@example.com