The Power of Vowels

Lilli Lehman (1848-1829)

Lilli Lehman (1848-1829)

Manuel García called vowels flesh and consonants bone, his students beginning each lesson intoning the former with a coup de glotte. Jenny Lind found her voice in doing so.

Giulia Valda tells us that more than one student of Francesco Lamperti spent years practicing vowels exclusively, thereby maintaining vocal youthfulness into old age.

The power of vowels?

I can attest to that. Margaret Harshaw, with whom I worked, kept a youthful sounding speaking and singing voice into her 80’s. What was her teaching? Breath and vowels. Each vowel a perfect combination of [a], [i], and [u]. What was she made to do as a student? Sing scales and exercises using pure vowels for a year before repertoire study.

This isn’t an easy path.

Lilli Lehmann, friend and colleague of Harshaw’s voice teacher Anna Schoen-René, observed in her idiosyncratic book How To Sing that it took students six months to hear the differences between vowels. I can attest to that too.

While voice teachers may observe the truth of Lehmann’s assertion, you won’t hear them talking about it. What student wants to be told that it’s going to take six months to begin sorting things out?

Singing pure vowels with full even tone throughout a two octave range is an accomplishment that takes time. More time than anyone wants to take.

Luciano Pavarotti reported that he became Pavarotti when he could place every vowel and note in the position of [u].

This took him two years.