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Clayton Haslop

The Magic in a Tone

September 10, 2009 at 5:46 PM

Last night, after a pretty full day at Fox Studios recording for ‘Avatar’, I had the privilege of attending a dress rehearsal of the Los Angeles Music Center Opera. 

It was Donizetti’s charmingly witty vehicle for vocal display, ‘Elixir of Love.’

I say I was privileged because I really heard some really first-class vocalizing.  If you love singing and don’t know the names Nina Machaidze and Giorgio Caoduro, I’m sure you will soon.

In any case, my mentor and teaMilstein always said that he learned more from listening to singers than he ever did from violinists.  And last night the reason why was particularly evidenced in the vocalizing of Ms. Machaidze.

A great tone is all about focus and what I’d call the purity of the vowels.’  This lady has it all, in spades. 

Now, on the violin we tend to equate getting ‘focus’ with drawing a straight bow, perpendicular to the strings, as close to the bridge as is possible.

The ‘purity of the vowels’ part of the equation has to do with the more subtle elements, like bow speed and pressure, the centering of the pitch, and the way the vibrato is shaped.

When all of these come together in a well intentioned, harmonious manner something magical springs to life.  Suddenly there is that ringing-ness that penetrates right to the core of one’s being. 

In an instant we are transformed and transported.

Truly, a cultivated tone is one of the great blessings we can bestow to this world.  And in my DVD programs I have some valuable, specific insights to share with violinists on this most important subject. 

All the Best,
Clayton Haslop


From Jerald Archer
Posted on September 14, 2009 at 3:57 AM

I have always enjoyed the operas of Donizetti and Bellini. The often virtuosic bel-canto style influenced the violinist/composers of the day, particularly Paganini. He was known to use many aria themes and present them in variations. The most famous one that comes to mind is the Moses variations, based on Rossini's work (of whom the two artists were great friends). The slower arias often are sublime and beautiful when executed well.

 Tartini was always stating the fact that to play well, one must sing well. I have found that a violin student can benifit greatly if they have even a basic level of vocal training and it shows in their final interpretation and execution. I am always preaching this vocal/violin correlation to my student, which often can open a wonderful world of opera appreciation which they never knew existed. When it is explained to them, they see a great relation between the epic tales of opera  and their own interests and the closely related themes and plots of  modern epics (sadly, they have many misconceptions about what opera really is and why it is so important to a properly cultured society and mind).  

Some opera buffs consider bel canto too exacting and sometimes "busy" while other may consider it simply the last phase of a great operatic era that was started with the work of Mozart and ended around 1850. After that, opera seems more heavy and often very affected by too somber of a tone that is reflected in the attititudes of the artists, the industry and the public, respectively.

There was a time when opera singers were not considered as very wholesome people and this is much in line with the public attitude of violinists, who were often considered slightly higher than a beggar in the street. There was an era when one attended the opera and it was more of a dinner-theatre atmosphere and often there was a great variety of musical presentations during the course of the evening. It was very less constricted than it is today (which is a direct refection of Victorian attitudes of opera as refleced in the works of Verdi ). I need say little about modern opera today or the is a direct reflection of social thoughts.

We can see this in the history of violin playing and the vocalizing aspects itself between the teaching attitudes of perhaps Corelli versus the attitudes of the teachers from around 1860  onwards and the opera of the day.   


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