Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Vibrato by the Seashore

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Vibrato by the Seashore

Article excerpt

prov-e-nance (prov'e-nens) n. Place of origin, source. [LAT. Provenire, to originate.]

I REMEMBER TAKING THE SEASHORE MUSICAL Aptitude Test as freshman entering college. It was a listening task that was supposed to be predictive of success as a music major. I have no idea what my result was, but I finished the degree!

My next encounter with Dr. Carl E. Seashore happened many years later when I attended The University of Iowa to study Voice Science at the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology. I remember taking a tour of Seashore Hall, which was the home of the Psychology Department that Dr. Seashore chaired for many years. He was an experimental psychologist during the dawn of the field. One of his many contributions was the development of a program to address speech and communication disorders. Out of this effort came the field of speech pathology and the foundation of the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at the university.

Seashore was responsible for the development of many interesting new tools and machines that were used to try to define in physical terms what humans perceived of the world that we live in and the effect those perceptions have upon our lives. Among his many interests were the arts, especially music.

Dr. Seashore along with several graduate students conducted experiments on the vibrato. Using new instruments that he developed in his laboratory, he could describe the characteristics of the vibrato in the human voice and in musical instruments. He provided us the definition of vibrato that we still understand today: a periodic fluctuation of pitch, amplitude, and timbre.

Then, as now, the vibrato was a topic of great interest to musicians, and he took to the task of defining, measuring, and understanding it. He did so because-as also now-there was a great deal of disagreement concerning the nature of the vibrato and whether it was a good thing or an abomination to good taste in music.

I offer here the introduction to The Vibrato, Volume 1 of a series titled Studies in the Psychology of Music, published in 1932.1 This was the first volume of a number of reports that came out of Dr. Seashore's laboratory as a part of this series. Within this book are most of the initial studies on vibrato. It is a very interesting read-many of the articles have been published elsewhere.

Dr. Seashore's studies helped me understand some confusing statements by respected pedagogues from the past concerning the vibrato and its use in our profession. In Hints on Singing, we find Garcia answering his own question in his Socratic approach to the book.

Q. How do you define steadiness of sound?

A. A firm and continuous flow of sound, free from every sort of tremor or quavering. This definition holds good with words or without.2

Is it really possible that Garcia was against the use of vibrato? It is not likely. Seashore addressed this conundrum by saying that there are good and bad vibratos even in successful artists and that the bad ones create a false rejection of the good.

He and his students made the first measurements of vibrato in many of the professional singers of the day- often using recordings. Figure 1 is a sample graph from Psychology of the Vibrato in the Voice and Instrument, Volume 3 of the series.3 Here we see a graph of the voice of Mr. Harold Stark, who is still remembered by many of us as a teacher of voice at the University of Iowa and who taught in San Antonio for many years after his retirement. In the graph we see a tracing of the pitch along with the constant presence of the vibrato while Mr. Stark sang the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria." It is clear that every note included a regular variation in pitch of about 6 Hz on top of the pitch being sung. There are many such examples in the collection of six volumes that make up the series. The details of the graph are described in the introduction.

The vibrato is still a topic that is likely to stimulate likely debate today: choral vs. …

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