IT and US: The glorious past of the Italian voice tradition
- WTI Magazine #106 Aug 19, 2018
Italy has a past of great vocal tradition, filled with great artists and with strong voices able of great expressiveness. This was true everywhere not only in the entertainment world. In the past centuries, it was the pride of anyone willing to be an example to feature a clear voice, perfect diction and the ability to be heard clearly even from a distance.
Today unfortunately things are very different: the elocution is not anymore considered a form of art and seems to be forgotten. The main figures appearing on television, being a reporter or a guest, seems totally unrelated to the glory of their ancestors. Is possible to spot all sorts of flaws in their voices. Defects in diction, pronunciation, very unclear voices, and prominent local accent. Many of that flaws can be easily and quickly fixed. Does not require an expert to notice that the voice find difficulties to be projected outside the mouth, almost like it is kept between the serrated teeth. Well, at least the teeth are all sparkling white!
Fortunately, this great Italian tradition is still alive and prosperous: simply it is now abroad. We can find it everywhere but in Italy. The United States understood a long time ago the importance of the voice within every relationship between people. Whether it is for friendship, for sentimental purposes, for closing a deal or for convincing a crowd, the voice is of utmost importance.
When one is master of one's voice, great things are always within reach. It is no coincidence that the voice of all the most influent and successful people, the self-made men, and women, have always something special in their voice that is able to make the difference.
I was lucky because I managed to develop my voice and distinguish myself as Vocal Coach in the fashion capital of Italy, Milan. In a few years, thanks to the word of mouth, I reached an unbelievable international success, a symptom that my work was something people have waited long enough.
Once reached the top, almost all my prestigious clients suggested me to go abroad. Wise people always listen to great advice, especially the ones coming from Italy's biggest and successful entrepreneurs. So I moved to Cambridge first, then to Boston, where I live and work today.
Thanks to the online session, today I have clients all over the world. But I still have to explain what is my work about only to people from Italy. I find also some of them that complain they cannot find any video of me singing on Youtube, despite being a successful Vocal Coach! That’s because for them a vocal coach is simply a singing teacher!
So let’s analyze this situation and check what are the main differences we can find between Italy and the United States in the Voice business. Here in America, every professional figure can be clearly identified. Anyone has perfectly clear what their business is about. We find the Singing Teacher, who has no shame to be called like that. Everyone knows that it only deals with teaching to sing to children or to train professional singers. Usually, adults don’t consider singing as a hobby, so they don’t require singing lessons. In the United States, there is more than one degree that qualifies for becoming a trained singing teacher. In Italy, there is not yet a specific degree for this key role. For sure a good teacher is not the result of a degree, but without proper knowledge a pretending “singing teacher” can very easy take the student to damage the vocal cords!
Continuing the list of the voice professionals, one step further we find the figure of the vocologist, a specialist who deals with vocal rehabilitation related to little traumas of the vocal apparatus. Also, in this case, the work is more focused on children. Italy recently introduced a degree in vocology, which does not qualify for teaching how to sing at all, yet some Italian singing teachers are keen to identify themselves as Vocologists, with or without the actual degree.
We continue with the figure of the speech therapist, who deals with the resolution of problems of pronunciation and phonation, also in adults. In Italy, it exists a degree in speech therapy and fortunately, nobody seems to abuse it within the voice training business.
Further up the ladder, we find the figure of the laryngologist who expands its abilities to more serious traumas, even when surgery is required. In Italy, this title is a specialization of the degree in medicine. Some of my clients have reported to me that previous singing teacher has sent them to have a vocal cords checkup to some laryngologist as a precaution measure. This is not what I consider a good practice. The goal of any vocal training is first to preserve the health of the vocal cords, so there is should be any risk of damaging them!
And finally, at the top of this industry, we find the figure of the Vocal Coach. A good vocal coach must have a very broad knowledge under the hat, covering the basic knowledge of all the previous roles, with the addition of humanistic disciplines such as psychology, sociology and today even information technology! The Vocal Coach takes full care of the clients, helping them to literally Find their Voice for a simple toast, a speech or a big convention, to sell, to persuade or to simply establish new personal or business relationships. Today it is even necessary to teach them how to interact with microphones, and computers since all the major presentation event require slides, audio amplification, and video recording.
When I left Italy everyone was pretending to be a Vocal Coach, as the television shows abused of that title instead of “singing teacher”. Today the game seems still running, even if someone is now pretending to be a Vocologist. Almost all of them are simply a singing teacher.
This confusion of roles is certainly not good for Italy. Pieces of evidence are everywhere. Television is setting a bad example because more and more reporters, guest, politicians, actors, and voiceover artist have flawed voices, with some kind of easily correctable defects. How can people watching develop the idea of perfecting the voice while all the role models are not doing so? While in the United States the Theater business is a flourishing industry, with all the major cities feature even 10 different show to attend in every season, in Italy this industry is unfortunately almost dead! In past Italy were among the leading nations, with composers like Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, just to name few. The theaters of all over the world are still playing the masterpieces created by Italians artists, but the Country is no more supporting this type of culture.
In Italy, we find small productions, sometime with the cast composed by people that have gained their role just because of the participation on some tv show, usually classified as a “trash TV”. While the qualities of this people can be argued, it’s easy to understand that the goal of a “trash TV” is to produce trash, not great artists. The same can be found in any other voice related business, from the discography to the radio hosts. We find more and more often “singers” with pretended “exceptional” voices, who most likely will destroy their vocal cords within a few years, or speakers that have very little communication and empathy skills.
Italy seems focused in the search of the perfect vocal technique, even with the introductions of complex machinery that help to control every single movement of the vocal apparatus. While it is true that everyone can perfect the technique, is not true that the technique alone is all you need to become expressive and transmit emotions to other peoples. It’s possible and very easy to express emotions without technique. For expressing them it is first necessary to feel an emotion, to enter into deep relation with something buried inside of us. This is not an easy path to follow and require commitment and a good Vocal Coach. Once in touch with your emotions is necessary to learn how to connect with the emotions inside other people. Only then is possible to learn how to transmit emotions using the voice. This is what the voice is all about. Connecting with other people. And when people manage to connect with others, even only as a listener, they feel alive!
Vocal technique is useful only in extending vocal range and preserving the health of the vocal cords. According to the outcomes we have in Italy, even the technique seems to be lacking. We find singers with very narrow vocal range and even some of the “big” names have undergone some type of voice surgery. Surgery should be an exception, not the norm, especially for a voice professional! The great singers of the past were able to sing even as an elder. And some of them started their career in an era where there was no audio amplification at all and yet their voice was able to fill entire theaters!
Nemo prophet in Patria. I think this Latin sentence, a couple of millennia old, is still valid today. My heart really suffers in seeing so much decadence and abandonment in the longtime vocal tradition of Italy. I am trying to help the Italian parliament with the creation of a new law and some basic rules to give people awareness about the risk involved in voice training, even if now I decided to make America my second home. The difference in mentality that I find in this country, especially in entrepreneurs and businessmen in Boston and New York, is something I hope to find again in Italy in the next years.