Academic journal article Journal of Singing

To Turn Singing on Its Ear: The Singer's Voice and the Tomatis Listening Curve, Part I

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

To Turn Singing on Its Ear: The Singer's Voice and the Tomatis Listening Curve, Part I

Article excerpt


IN TRAINING THE VOICE, should teachers and students be concerned with training the ear-not in the sense musicians usually understand "ear training" (identifying intervals, chord progressions, and so on), but training the ear to a stronger acuity to high partials?

It could be argued that the role of the ear is given relatively short shrift in contemporary Western culture. Many observe that ours tends to be a society preponderantly oriented towards the visual. This is not to deny that the aural also is important in contemporary culture; but is it an exaggeration to say that the general populace is more finely attuned to the visual than to the aural? Electronic amplification of sound, in spite of the benefits it brings, has rendered a finely tuned perception of overtones more a matter of personal preference than a necessity.

In the arts, the aural seems, at first glance, to be as vibrant as the visual. Here too, however, a closer look leads one to ask whether this, unlike earlier periods in history, is not the era of the eye. Is it a coincidence that oration was a highly regarded art form in ancient Greece and Rome; that the general populace in Elizabethan England loved the very sound not only of Shakespeare's and Marlowe's prose, but also of the oratory in courts of law; or that the latest symphony in nineteenth century Vienna was a "media event"? Today, on the other hand, the art form that excites the greatest interest on all levels of society, in the largest cities as well as the smallest towns, is film. Articles and dissertations are written on cinematography and the visual sophistication of this or that camera angle; but how many film scores stand up as works in their own right? The better film scores are considered to be those that do not detract from the visual.

If one concedes this shift from an emphasis on the aural to the visual, how has it happened? A full consideration of that question is beyond the scope of this article. But it is worth keeping in mind as we consider the central question in this study-How does the ear affect singing?-since singers and their audiences are part of this very visual society.

While culture and language might indeed be factors that influence an entire society's awareness of sound, there are those who look to psychological reasons for individual differences in listening. An extreme example of listening affected by a psychological state is autism, which is the purest form of "nonlistening."1 The relation of psychology to listening is an aspect of the work of the late otorhinolaryngologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis. Here, too, we raise an issue beyond the scope of the present study; but the psychological factors are likewise worth bearing in mind as we consider the relation of the ear to singing.

Whatever the causes of a less aurally centered awareness might be, whether in individual cases or in society as a whole, the work of Tomatis has opened up the possibility of rediscovering the importance of sound, particularly high frequency audition. Tomatis underlined the fact that the ear is the first of the sensory organs to develop and mature. The ear is fully functional by the fifth month of gestation.2 Listening-already in the womb-is the first sense we develop.3 Not only is the ear first in time; it is, according to Tomatis, the first in importance. Tomatis claimed that the brain receives more stimuli through the ears than any other sense organ. "He considers skin to be differentiated ear rather than vice versa."4

One of the benefits of his work may well be to reveal an aural malnutrition that is more pervasive than we have heretofore realized. Tomatis not only identified the effects of this malnutrition, he devised a method to address the situation. His method is used, for instance, to treat children with delayed or disordered language development, children with autism, people of all ages who find it difficult to learn a language, people who experience decreased mental alertness, and so on. …

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