Singing With Good Diction and Phonetics
Elizabeth:† Now, diction, phonetics.
Charlie:† Do those mean
the same thing?
Elizabeth:† Diction is for clarity, phonetics for
correctness.† You learn phonetics so you
are pronouncing correctly.† You learn
diction so that itís clear and understandable.†
It all has to do with language. †One of the three ideals of bel canto is to
sing pure vowels.† It takes some study to
get each vowel pure into the voice throughout the range.† Itís a technical issue.† Those vowels are universal to all the
languages once you learn their sounds.†
Singers sometimes neglect
this part of singing, thinking, that when their voice registration changes they
have to modify the vowels, especially when they go high.† They may not try to phonate
the vowels in certain parts of their range.†
They may have trouble getting over a registration or a low note without
changing the nature of the vowel.† As the voice is unified, the vowels should
remain as accurately formed as possible throughout the range.† Thatís part of daily vocal exercises.†
Many singers think the
consonants in a language are going to get in their wayóthe percussive aspect of
the language, especially the explosive, unvoiced ones, the Tís and the Pís and
the Chís, or the voiced ones like Mís and Nís.†
Singers often wish that they didnít have to deal with phonetics and
diction because they complicate their singing line.† What ends up happening is the consonants
arenít articulated and the vowels are modulated.† You can have a singer with a rich and
wonderful sound but be unable to tell what language they are singing.†
The singer is the only
instrument that deals with language in a spontaneous way.† The singer is a poet.† In the bel canto the pure vowel ideal
includes clarity, understandability and beauty of the language in the
singing.† Getting this right is hard
work.† Some singers and even teachers
sidestep the issue and tolerate poor diction and bad phonetics.† When this is neglected, it will hold a singer
Charlie:† Are there
exercises for phonetics and diction?
First, thereís book learning.† I
studied phonetics in the classroom.† Itís
up to the singer and his teacher to apply that to the singing in the
studio.† My phonetics teacher at New
England Conservatory was John
Boston who wrote a very
useful book called ďDiction for American SingersĒ which is still
available.† What I like about the
Moriarty book is that it uses the International Phonetic
Alphabet.† I think the descriptions and
examples of the various vowels are the best Iíve seen.† I used the book as a reference all through my
career.† I was lucky enough to take the
course with John Moriarty and we worked the
entire book through with him.† We did
French, German, Italian, and ecclesiastical Latin.† Other books cover English.† English also deserves attention because there
are some dialects around.† There is a
right way to sing in English that might not be the same as your personal
dialect.† So, study English diction as
though it were another foreign language.†
This is something good broadcasters do.
Charlie:† How many
semesters of diction classes did you take?
Elizabeth:† I took 4 semesters, two years.† It was required at the conservatory.† If you listen to the 1974 Debut recital, you
should notice that my diction was coming along nicely.† Later in my career in Europe,
I remember singing some Russian songs and a nice lady came up to me and began
speaking in Russian.† I had to smile and
say I donít speak Russian.† She was quite
surprised.† To this day, if Iím preparing
something new I sit down with my sheet of paper and write a three-line
survey.† I write the original
language.† Below that I put a
word-for-word translation, and above it an IPA rendering of the proper
phonetics.† If I have doubt about the
rules, I can look up the various words in a dictionary that uses the IPA or I
have my diction book with the pronunciation rules in it.† I made worksheets for every opera role, every
song, etc.† If it was something I hadnít
sung in a while Iíd do it again.† Itís
also helpful for memorizing.
Charlie:† What was
diction class homework?
Elizabeth:† Worksheets, we turned in our work for corrections.† We were also expected to recite correct
diction.† Now and then Mr.
Moriarty would sit at the piano and we were expected to sing
our assignments.† He checked our
translations and pronunciations.† And we
drilled, like boot camp privates.
Charlie: †Are there
phonetic markups in your music scores?
Elizabeth:† Sometimes, just reminders of trouble
spots.† I usually did a separate
sheet.† I rendered all of Lucia
phonetically to prepare for that role.
Charlie:† Your copy of
Mr. Moriartyís book is quite beat up so I imagine itís because you
used it constantly for the last 30+ years.
(Interview with Elizabeth Parcells 2005)