The Bottom Line

As simply as I can put it, the essence of vocal technique is this: full commitment to musical and textual truth at every moment, while keeping available as many options as possible. In other words, engage but don’t lock. Concepts like legato, support, and resonance are activities that are faithfully employed, moment to moment.

The true artist does not fret the past, fear the future, or fail to connect with the present. Free and expressive singing is empowered by constant change–sensitively responding to ideas and subtle attitudes.

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Tribute to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Like many of my generation, my first exposure to Lieder–actually to what we call art song in any language–was from LPs of the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (“the Dietster,” as I have fondly nicknamed him recently).

In late childhood, I was introduced to the immense world of Classical vocal music. My father (a true hero in my book) began college at the age of 30, with a working wife (my mother is also a hero!) and children of age 10 and 3. Dad earned a music education degree in a record 2 years and 9 months, after having graduated high school some 12 years earlier. He went on to earn a graduate degree in church music, and served as minister of music and other church staff positions–including as pastor, before retiring a few years ago. Dad’s voice teacher was a DFD admirer, and I remember being introduced to Schubert recordings he assigned Dad to hear. (I was also introduced to the “yellow book” of Italian songs/arias, Copland Old American Songs, etc., by playing them on our Estey spinet for Dad’s at-home practice, but that’s another post…)

Before digital media, there was the LP. As a high school student in the Atlanta area, I well remember trips to the Atlanta Public Library, walking out with stacks of 20 or so Lieder, Melodie and occasional opera recordings. DFD was the singer on most them. By the way, another legend–Dalton Baldwin–was the pianist on many, including all those of Souzay. I cannot express the joy and thrill I have so often experienced in these past years at Westminster Choir College, when I have frequently performed with, coached with, shared students with and socialized with Mr. Baldwin, an American treasure.

This brief YouTube tribute to Mr. Fischer-Dieskau consists of his singing “An die Musik,” as various quotes scroll by (rather quickly, I warn you). Notice the emphasis on imagination and synthesis; it is these powers that allow us to learn, grow, express and move ahead. Of course, my young ears were initially drawn to the sound of DFD’s voice, as the voice itself is the instrument we play. Younger listeners may not seem to appreciate the personal and artistic dimension as readily, but many of us “got it” at a significant level when DFD sang.

Many teachers assign students to hear DFD recordings as a reference for diction and style. As I mature in my own singing, there is more and more basis for relating to and profoundly appreciating this┬álegendary artist. I was blessed to attend a week of master classes by the great Dietster himself in Weimar, back in 2001 when he was at the age of 76. Though retired from singing, I can tell you that his demonstrations were amazing! Even in retirement, his voice was big, powerful, solid, spinning, and still immediately capable of his signature “head voice/mix/half-voice, etc.” that goes directly into falsetto. In a future post here, I may explore some opinions and methods for approaching the voice in such a way that this seamless registration is possible; this is central to what I currently seek in my own singing and teaching.

As you enjoy this brief YouTube clip, I hope you will be inspired to consider/reconsider this great artist. Hundreds of recordings are available, of course, many on YouTube. I also hope you will be inspired, as I am, to seek out his writing and interviews. Much to learn!