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On the Vocal Aesthetics of Stephan Poen, PhD

Monday, 27 May 2013 , ora 8.17
Biotechnical and Analytic Models in Vocal Aesthetics is the title of a new release at the 'Glissando' Publishing House of the National University of Music Bucharest. It is a two-volume book by Stephan Poen, a phoniatrist and Doctor of Music, based on a conference that he had held at the National University of Music.

I think you do not need any more introduction, you are an authority when it comes to opera, an authority when it comes to voice in general, because you have not only dealt with the singing voice. There are two volumes that basically discuss two approaches of the vocal aesthetics: on the one hand - a biotechnical model, and on the other hand - an analytical one. What are these two volumes of around 70 pages aimed at? The information is very, very condensed and perhaps reading it requires a return to the subject.

These volumes are aimed at a large category of people, young or not, who study the musical and vocal phenomenon integrated in the human artistic personality, to students at the University of Music - those who study canto, as well as future instrumentalists, future conductors, future musicologists who will have professional relationships with the singing voice - as well as to canto professors and to those who teach other musical and musicological subjects, because knowing the journey from voice to vocality one finds many landmarks that help improve the professional activity of vocalists and of those who work with them. Certainly, in a way these volumes can please music lovers, too, or intellectuals from other fields who want to go deeper and to live the emotion of hearing a voice at a superior level of knowledge.

Indeed, we can say we are speaking of a system of understanding and developing voice, especially the singing voice not only voice in general, but also the speaking voice, because these principles perhaps refer to it, as well. If I am mistaken, please contradict me.

No, the principles are universal. Both the speaking voice and singing voice can be based on the same functional and aesthetic principles in discerning its use, with the difference that the speaking voice uses a more restricted ambitus - a quint, at most an octave - whereas the singing voice, especially the vocalists of the symphonic genres, of opera and operetta, must range at least over two octaves for men, and even three for women. So, the difference lies only in the ambitus and, certainly, in the fact that the singing voice is conditioned by a compulsory intonation according to the score, whereas the intonation of the speaking voice is more arbitrary, and it is related to the character and temperament specific to each personality.

I noticed and mentioned earlier that the two volumes contain a system dedicated to vocal aesthetics, a comprehensive system that approaches the reality of this phenomenon from a bio-psychosomatic point of view. Why are there two sides necessary to understand your vocal aesthetics? In other words, I would like you to explain the two halves of the main title - the biotechnical model, on the one hand, and the analytical one, on the other.

The two volumes are, in fact, two stages of knowledge and applicability in voice and vocality. The first one is the biotechnical stage, that stage when you know the nature of the body and integrate its attitudes in the service of the voice's standard instrumental sound. As opposed to other categories of artists, I am referring to instrumentalists, who have an instrument that remains consistent - it is enough for them to have certain parameters of humidity, temperature and atmospheric pressure for the violin to preserve its state, or the piano, or the flute - voice is a different matter, because voice is, in fact, the human body in its anatomo-physiological entirety. The voice varies according to what we eat, what we drink, what we wear, the way we relate to temperature, humidity and the atmospheric pressure of the environment. The voice varies according to our psycho-emotional relationships with the people around us. The voice varies according to how happy or how pleased we are. These are just a few aspects, not to mention other things that are related to what I like to define as the psychosomatic hygiene of human personality, namely a sum of intrinsic and extrinsic factors, inside and outside our personality that constantly act upon the voice. The biotechnical stage means knowing the organic instrument of our body, the voice, and knowing how to work with it, how to work the anatomo-physiological springs that we own. The second stage of knowledge, the analytical-phonological one, is applied to the first stage when perfect conditions are ensured, and it develops the dimensions of a voice's parameters. We are used to saying that voice means intensity, colour, height and duration of sound, but in the second volume, called The Analytical-Phonological Model of Voice, we shall see that these parameters comprise a lot of dimensions that we can gain by evolution, through a very careful process of theoretical and practical formation and informing…

You are talking about 36 parameters.

Exactly. All of these 36 parameters spring from four fundamental acoustic parameters of sound: sonority or intensity, colour or timbre, frequency or height and duration. But in the volume, I made a large analytical unfolding of these parameters, giving 36 dimensions, the aesthetic functional entities of the voice. And, according to the degree in which these 36 entities appear - the way we cover them in our formation and informing - we start from the voice stage, only to reach vocality later. And then, the vocality stage covers the levels of artistic value, artistic personality and, finally, artistic celebrity. These are evolutionary steps that cannot be skipped. The metaphor is common - to get to the 10th floor of a building you must climb the other nine, up the stairs or in the elevator, but you must climb them, nonetheless.

So, you have put in good order the development stages of a lyrical artist, the most beautiful singing voice any human on earth can reach. I would also like to highlight an aspect that I consider interesting. You said: 'Singing is the most beautiful act of human intelligence, taking place at the border between matter and spirit'. In an age when testing the unseen is regarded with a lot of suspicion, your sticking with a holistic vision, so to speak, is laudable.

I owe this depth of vision that I apply to voice, to the great luck I have had in my life, that of living with my beloved wife, great artist Elena Cernei who, for twenty years, had a beneficial impact on stimulating my evolution. Elena Cernei used to contemplate what I now want to perpetuate, namely: the divine verb has become flesh, and we, at the level of our incarnate being - a bio-psychosomatic being - we make this divine verb resonate in us and we enrich it with all that our soul can collect, all the good and beautiful things in a life governed by spirit, by that quantum of Holy Spirit that is inside us. That is why, I stressed this idea that starting from the voice, you could reach vocality, but if this vocality covered the stages of value and personality in healthy evolution, thus becoming a celebrity , if this celebrity could channel vocality into a vocal verb, then, the celebrity would become a prophet of our times and our society. This is the fundamental mission of the sacrality of the vocation vocal verb, for those who have it. Only then, could we succeed! I have met some of the world's greatest artists - if I refer to Renata Tebaldi, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Paolo Silveri, Giuseppe Taddei and Giulietta Simionato - and I have been good friends with these people. I have understood that thanks to this channeling of vocality into vocal verb, the celebrity has assumed prophetic capacities and that is why, great artists are modest; it is that grand modesty; because they reach the prophetic capacities that our condition of divine children can accept. We are God's children and we can turn towards His greatness.

Interviu realizat de Ștefan Costache
Translated by Irina Borțoi and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest