The pursuit of excellence is a privilege. The idea of marshaling your mind, your body, your heart, your spirit toward an ambitious goal of achieving beauty, grace, and elegance—calling forth the best of yourself in pragmatic day-to-day toil—is exceptional.
I’ve devoted most of my life considering excellence in human endeavors. Somewhere, deep in the hallways of my philosophy of Life, I still wonder about the big questions of the cosmos, but I boil down Life’s meaning in terms of how we use our lives, how we use our gifts. It seems we can either pass time between our birth and death, accomplishing little, or we can work to make new distinctions in human endeavors, contributing to our fellow men and women. I’ve chosen the latter, guided by the principles of excellence.
My career has spanned many human endeavors—writing, art, music, design, business, filmmaking, architecture, counseling, consulting, programming—and I was fortunate to spend a good portion of time wondering about what it means to be an artist in the world. By artist, I mean a painter, musician, writer, dancer, sculptor, architect, but the same guidelines of excellence apply to anyone in the exchange of values between a worker (or company) and his audiences. In this sense, a business producing a service is like a dance company producing a dance or an artist producing a painting.
In both cultural and business commerce, what values do artists and their audiences exchange? What service do artists supply? What would we lose if we produced no art or music?
I answered many of these questions in terms of evolution: Artists serve their audiences by leading them to new states, states they can’t get to themselves. Through the plasticity of the nervous system, audiences have a capacity to experience a wide range of states, but toil through the day, cycling through just a few. To move beyond their limited inventory, they pay artists, who through their works, lead them from their hum-drum states into heightened, distinctive states—pathos, humor, love, hope—any of a wide range. The artist pushes the internal experience of the audience this way and that, nudging them into new perceptions and experiences, increasing their flexibility as human beings to know and respond to the world around them. Audiences reward the best ones handsomely, as heightened states carry great value. Ultimately, I believe the prize is evolutionary fitness: by generating more states, we push our perception to take in new forms, which expands our range of responses, aiding in our adaptability to our ever changing circumstances.
I was also concerned about the pragmatic, day-to-day effort an artist makes during his lifetime to create these values. How does he sustain the effort? What does he attend to? What does he actually produce? To answer these questions, I have probed the dimensions of excellence—what does it mean? How do we define it? How do we know when it is present?
In the large picture, an artist produces works as a result of his own internal states, his primary tool being his nervous system’s ability to make distinctions. The finer the distinctions he makes, at many different levels, the more he approaches excellence. His audience absorbs the produced works, which stimulates their own nervous systems to move along the cues left by the artist, guiding them toward a heightened state.
At that time in my life, while running my film studio, I had already created a film series for singers. In that effort, we bridged the major concepts from voice science to the art of singing, using rich visualization extensively, drawing from MRIs, cineflouroscopy, 2D and 3D animation. I wanted to produce a companion book that elaborated on those concepts, integrating them into daily work, giving singers a deep store of tools to develop their voices and become successful artists.
My friend and colleague, Joan Wall, wanted to write the book and I gave it to her, but after a period of time, she asked me to help. After some deliberation, I took up the challenge, knowing it would give me a chance to fully explore, in great detail, each nuance of excellence guiding the exchange of values between an artist and his audiences, all from a pragmatic, working philosophy. In writing the book, I would be exploring what it means to live and work as an artist in the world, where distinctions were the primary payoff, focused on a single area in our humanity—singers and their audiences. The net result: Our one book on vocal pedagogy expanded into a five-volume tome entitled Excellence in Singing.
The challenge was multifaceted. The books needed to serve professors who taught voice majors, some of whom were performers and others teachers. Some would aim for the Olympic art of operatic singing; others for popular singing. Given the view of working and living as an artist in the world, we had to serve all of them. We also needed to include the rich models just being elucidated in voice science, but in a way that was relevant to singers and easy to understand, and to integrate the visualizations from the film series.
Writing the volumes took many years, much thought about the philosophy of excellence, and the transfer of values between any person working day-to-day to achieve excellence and his audience. As I was also studying neuroscience, I was also working out the seminal ideas behind what later evolved into zeriosantalios, the core philosophy of The Celumbra Project, which can be read about here.
From the Introduction to Volume IV: Becoming an Artist:
All over the earth, from the beginning of Time, composers have put words to music and performers have sung those words to others—but why? What might have inspired a priest, in some ancient ritual, to chant his message rather than speak it? What meaningful differences do we humans find between the spoken word and words that rise and fall in melodies, pulsate in rhythms, and swirl with musical tones?
Exploring these questions is not simply a philosophical exercise. Our answers clarify our goals for excellence in singing. The goals we choose must be in tune with the universal urges that prompt us to sing and make music—urges that lie deep within our humanity.
So what is the meaningful difference between singing and speaking, between making music and not? For our pragmatic goals of excellence in singing, one useful answer is that singing engages us more. It causes us to see more, hear more, feel more. An ancient priest probably chanted his words to ignite the emotions of his tribe. To deepen the impression of a ritual, he might also have beat on a drum; to inspire his tribe to hunt better, he might have added well-timed clicks, whistles, and scrapes; to purge his tribe of pent-up fears, he might have added chanters to wail key words.
Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Debussy, Strauss, Berio, Stockhausen, Gershwin—all have refined this process into an art. They tell us how to chant elaborate visions to heighten the experience of our audience.
Joanne Sydney Lesser
Excellence in Singing is impressive in its scope. Ten years in the making, this five-volume instructional tome is an ambitious undertaking that takes teacher and student deep into the singer’s craft. With extended pedagogical chapters followed by corresponding exercises, the books are geared toward singers and instructors looking to expand their repertoire of teaching learning tools…The series, to its credit, includes explorations of all physical and artistic aspects of singing, rather than limiting its focus strictly to vocal technique. Volume Two: Mastering the Fundamentals gets down to the brass tacks of singing, offering useful, basic exercises…. Volume Three: Advancing the Technique explores in great detail, sophisticated concepts of tone, resonance, and transitions among registers, with an even more impressive array of exercises and a well-conveyed and unbiased section on musical theater “belting” for the female singer. The many valuable ideas and exercises in Volume Four: Becoming an Artist provide the sort of refresher from which even advanced teachers and students will benefit. In addition to skill builders in musical interpretation, these exercises include many of the same dramatic tools an actor might use. Volume Five: Managing Vocal Health discusses behaviors, substances and medical conditions that can cause vocal problems, explains potential treatments and offers several case studies of working singers responding to crises in vocal health.
Reviewer Opera News
Excellence in Singing is an outstanding, comprehensive five-volume work devoted to the practice of healthy, joyful, technically secure singing. Each volume offers valuable insights, examples and learning tools for singers, teachers, coaches, conductors, directors and anyone interested in the ‘art of singing.’ Expertly and clearly written, each volume provides an understanding of effective vocal teaching. Particularly outstanding is Becoming an Artist. This volume, as well as the whole series, is fine reference information for all vocal educators.
Director of Opera University of Texas at Austin
…a valuable resource for cultivating the vocal artists of the next generation, and for inspiring people of any age to fulfill their musical dreams. As educators, parents, students, and other concerned citizens strive to keep music a priority of our educational system, tools like Excellence in Singing are essential to encouraging and developing the artistic expression that makes us fuller individuals and a stronger society. Sweeping in its synthesis of teaching approaches, scholarly in its scope, but understandable to the average reader, this five-book series is a must-read for teachers and students.
President/CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc., best known for presenting the GRAMMY Awards
As one who grew up with music educators, I find Excellence in Singing to be of great interest on several levels. It is, of course, instructive and includes an underlying attitude of respect and joy in the teacher/student relationship. Equally important, it is also beautiful in its choice of words and in the images it creates. The writers’ voices are supportive, encouraging, expansive, sensitive and colorful, well-informed, organized, clear and imaginative, engendering an intense involvement in the learning/teaching process. On a broad level, this series is full of original thinking, which one can apply to any number of life’s situations and challenges. I can’t imagine a more exciting tool for helping a teacher or singer achieve excellence than to use this series.”
Teacher/Counselor Private Studio
As a choral conductor in today’s society, it is imperative to have a basic understanding of the human voice. Excellence in Singing provides the conductor, teach, and educator with this knowledge in five volumes of vocal pedagogy that are essential for all learning environments. I highly recommend this series for all levels of teaching, and admire the clear and concise approach that is presented to the reader.
Associate Music Director of American Boychoir
The scope of Excellence in Singing is all-encompassing, embracing every aspect of the singer’s artistic odyssey from the initial stages of preparation through the life-long commitment to maintenance of vocal health. In text and stunning graphics, both physio-acoustical and interpretative processes are thoroughly and clearly outlined, making optimum use of the latest data available to us from the domains of voice science and artistic scholarship. I shall look forward to including this five-volume source of vocal and artistic wisdom in my own personal library, and will see to it that it joins the holding of our library here at Michigan.
Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Professor of Music
Every human culture has its own specific way of singing and of learning how to sing. But there’s something universal that Excellence in Singing is pointing out through its five volumes: the singing process is not just about the technical skills; it’s an activity that requires the participation of the whole body and personality. Learning how to sing is not just about practicing scales all day long, it’s also about feeling the meaning of the songs, controlling your body sensations. For me, the main quality of this work is that it always keeps in mind the whole picture and provides wide information on the many aspects of the learning process.
The Excellence in Singing series provides a sweeping view of what it means to be a singer and an effective teacher of singing in this century. The five volumes offer profound and practical insights into the psychology of teaching, the structure of the vocal instrument, the technical development of that instrument, the singer’s artistic development, and the health of the voice. This remarkably comprehensive series will be of invaluable use in voice studios and pedagogy classes, and will be treasured by all of those who are passionate about the singing voice.
Professor of Voice and Pedagogy The Westminster Choir College of Rider University
Excellence in Singing is neither tentative nor brief; it spans the breadth of subjects related to teaching voice, from vocal health to stage gestures. . . . [It] is as much about teaching and learning as it is about singing. . . . In addition to the extensive discussion about teaching and learning in the first volume, the authors model good instructional skills by presenting a plethora of pedagogical options for any specific learning goal. Exercises throughout all of the volumes are written in a step-by-step procedure in much the same way that any education student is taught to write lesson plans. The exercises are numerous, varied, and integrated into the vocal repertoire; they lead the teacher through everything from finding a relaxed onset to teaching the belting voice.
Journal of Singing
Roderick B. Menzies
Excellence in Singing is remarkable for its sweeping scope, clear presentation, and effective combination of practical pedagogical advice and inspiring artistic vision. Teachers and performers alike will find it valuable for everything from gaining a more detailed understanding of complex technical problems, to fine-tuning the creative elements of interpretation. Concepts are seamlessly integrated with practice; basic information with sophisticated insight. This is a very usable book, nothing less than an encyclopedic examination of the vocalist’s art and craft.
University of Southern California
Excellence in Singing is one of the most comprehensive books on the voice that could be used by vocal pedagogues, by the developing artist, and by the listener who would like to understand a little more about the process and development of a singer. It’s clearly written, well-explained, and the closest one may come to discussing the development of an artist without knowing each individual. The detailed illustrations are particularly useful and beautifully presented. It’s a pleasure knowing that book is made available to the public.
Metropolitan Opera, New York Distinguished Professor of Music, Indiana University-Bloomington
The authors of numerous singing manuals, Caldwell and Wall (voice, Texas Woman’s University) present a remarkable resource for voice teachers, bringing together and building on much of the current and historical theory of vocal technique and training. Singers, coaches, and choir directors will also find much of value if they are not daunted by the quantity of information presented. Each volume includes many vocal exercises and interesting case studies. The first two volumes will be especially useful for beginning teachers. In a field rife with jargon and elusive imagery, the authors share suggestions to improve communication with students. In addition, the sections on teaching anatomy, acoustics, and the science of sound are very detailed. Volume 1 – Beginning the Process, investigates teaching and learning at various levels. Volume 2 – Mastering the Fundamentals, covers breath management, muscle awareness, and the use of resonators. Volume 3 – Advancing the Technique, offers exercises and information of value to the advanced student. There is also an excellent section on teaching belt tone for musical theater students. Volume 4 – Becoming an Artist, addresses important areas for aspiring professionals, including learning a score, preparing texts, and communicating with an audience. Volume 5 – Managing Vocal Health, gives advice on when to send students to a physician and what to expect from a physical exam. Medical procedures for treating various vocal disorders are also dis used. Vocal study is a lifelong process as the “instrument” matures and then ages, and teachers and students work at a wide range of abilities – something this work’s multilevel approach effectively addresses. There are many more concise (and less expensive) books on vocal technique available, but nothing as comprehensive or as potentially rewarding for the serious voice teacher. Highly recommended for academic libraries and large music collections.