A Modern Guide to Old World Singing - Book Review
I have been a big fan of voice teacher David Jones for years. I remember reading his blog many years ago before he was active on Facebook. His blog posts were always very rich, informative, insightful, and straight-forward. Over the last several years I have been fortunate enough to travel to New York City to have several lessons with David and to attend his Teacher Training Workshop. During the global pandemic I have enjoyed taking zoom lessons with David. I read his book A Modern Guide to Old World Singing: Conceptsof the Swedish-Italian and Italian Singing Schools when it was first published in 2017. During the last few weeks I have enjoyed re-reading his text in preparation for my lessons.
My friend from Oregon Bach Festival, tenor David Kurtenbach, encouraged me to write a blog reviewing the book. (Thanks for the great idea David!)
Overall, this is an excellent resource for many levels of classical/bel-canto singers. Please note, this book does focus on classical singing, and therefore musical theatre/CCM techniques are not covered. (I will make sure to review some texts that include these approaches in the future).
The book features 16 chapters which are outlined below:
Chapter 1 - Allan Lindquist and the Swedish-Italian School of Singing
Chapter 2 - Posture, Breath, and Breath Management
Chapter 3 - Defining Factors of the Open Throat
Chapter 4 - Lindquist's Perfect Attack - Defining Garcia's Coup de Glotte
Chapter 5 - Vocal Protection: Its Role in Acoustically Balanced Singing
Chapter 6 - Achieving Balance in Registration
Chapter 7 - Understanding and Solving Middle Register Problems
Chapter 8 - Balancing the Upper Passaggio
Chapter 9 - Healthy Training of the Female Lower Passaggio
Chapter 10 - Understanding the Physical Function Required for Legato Singing
Chapter 11 - Applying Vocal Technique to Repertoire
Chapter 12 - Achieving Acoustical Balance in Singing Onstage
Chapter 13 - Thinking Critically about Vocal Technique
Chapter 14 - Creating a Positive Learning Environment
Chapter 15 - The Importance of Psychology in Singing
Chapter 16 - Lesson Design: Organizing a Sequence of Exercises
One of strengths of David Jones' book is the straightforward language of the material. He clearly articulates his ideas without jargony language. For this reason I believe it is accessible to many levels of singers and teachers. His focus is on vocal efficiency/freedom, and he excels in this area both as a teacher and in his approach to this book. In particular, the information he presents regarding laryngeal freedom and singing with the open throat (la gola aperta) is excellent. I believe the most useful material in the book for singers and teachers alike are the vocal exercises he presents. Many voice teachers present vocal exercises as "warm ups" and do not impart the pedagogical purpose to their students. David clearly articulates the purpose of each vocalise. This is particularly valuable for the young voice teacher. The numerous case studies of students David has worked with during his lengthy teaching career are very interesting and provide great context. David's discussion regarding creating a positive learning environment and the psychology of singing are also particularly insightful. (Note: He talks the talk and walks the walk. He is a very supportive, warm, and student-focused teacher.)
As for weaknesses of the book, I am hard pressed to find anything to comment on. There are some topics (scientific discussion of acoustics/formants for instance) that are not covered. However, I don't think this book was written to be a vocal pedagogy course textbook. There are many other texts that deal with vocology/voice science which can be used as a primary text for voice pedagogy courses. I believe David's book to be a practical guide rather than a scientific treatise. Don't get me wrong, his ideas are sound and he backs up his concepts with scientific research. But the tone of the book does not lead with science or jargon. I do believe that this text provides wonderful material that can be used as secondary reading material in a vocal pedagogy course.
In closing, I highly recommend this book. The book is clearly written, accessible, and the concepts in the book are pedagogically sound, as evidenced by the thousands of students David has helped over the years and the status he enjoys as a voice teacher with an international reputation.