Academic journal article Journal of Singing

How Richard Miller Changed the Way We Think about Singing

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

How Richard Miller Changed the Way We Think about Singing

Article excerpt

I HAVE NEVER TAKEN A VOICE LESSON WITH RICHARD MILLER, yet I think of myself as one of his students. I have learned as much about singing from Richard Miller as from anyone I have ever encountered. Many who read this, I suspect, will feel the very same way. Through his teaching, extensive writings, and frequent appearances as a clinician, Richard Miller has influenced the thinking of singers and teachers throughout the world.

Perhaps his most significant contribution is that he made us rethink the way we evaluate singing. Traditionally singers and teachers have listened to the sound and made decisions about the voice based almost entirely on whether they like the sound or not. Richard has asked us to consider the function first, assuring us that a voice that is functioning well will indeed produce the best possible sound.

Many of us who teach find ourselves uttering phrases that we first heard coming from his lips, such as, "The voice is a physical instrument and obeys the laws of physiology, and the voice is an acoustic instrument and obeys the laws of acoustics." Richard may not have been the first to say that, but he certainly has preached this message so widely and so convincingly that he has influenced large numbers of voice practitioners from the last third of the twentieth century into the early twenty-first century to think in this way.

In a time when voice scientists have investigated and described the phenomena of vocal production with astounding detail and accuracy, there are still many voice practitioners who refuse to consider their findings. While voice scientists decry the "jargon" that is spoken by many voice teachers, equal numbers of teachers complain that scientists do not talk in practical terms. Richard Miller has served as a mediator between these two groups, explaining the function of the voice in concrete and objective language, while offering practical prescriptions for teaching and singing based on his understanding of vocal function.

Richard has a thorough knowledge of the traditions of teaching, as evidenced in his chapter, "Historical Overview of Vocal Pedagogy" in Robert Sataloff's book, Vocal Health and Pedagogy.1 That essay provides a wonderful and concise description of voice teaching methods from the Baroque to the present.

His experience as a performer, his knowledge of the history of teaching, and his many years of experience working in the voice studio combine with his intensive study of science to produce a person who can help scientists and practitioners to understand each other. In his teaching and in his writing he has shown us all how to apply the findings of vocal science so that we can produce better singing and teaching.

Voice laboratories are now proliferating thanks in large part to the example set by Richard Miller and his lab at Oberlin. Richard was among the first voice practitioners to embrace the use of spectrographic analysis, electroglottograms, and other forms of realtime feedback as part of the teaching process. In this respect as in so many others, it seems that his vision was ahead of its time.

The approach to singing he has always advocated is one based on balance and functional efficiency. It produces beautiful singing, extended range, flexibility, and vocal longevity. His writing has been a model of precision and clarity, yet he keeps the reader amused with a touch of humor and wit. He reminds us, for example, that "the history of low larynx singing has been a long and depressing one."

He has not confined himself to the production of vocal sound. He always has emphasized that singing is about music, insisting that the most important quality any singer can have is musicianship. Along with an encyclopedic knowledge of vocal technique, he has demonstrated mastery of several languages and a thorough knowledge of vocal literature. He surprised a number of people when he took a break from writing about vocal technique to create a definitive book on the songs of Schumann. …

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