Techniques and Pedagogical Influences
Shirlee Emmons’ teaching reflects the time she spent in Italy as a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship, when she was trained in the classic Italian methods of singing. In addition, upon her return to the United States, she was mentored by the great voice pedagogue Berton Coffin. They had been acquaintances and colleagues in Robert Shaw’s first touring choir, after which Emmons continued her singing career, and Coffin departed New York to teach at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Many years later they met again at a NATS national convention, just before Emmons published The Art of the Song Recital. At that time Coffin’s gift, a hand-colored copy of his famous vowel chart, initiated their renewed friendship, which blossomed into a professional relationship that lasted until his death. Although Emmons draws from pedagogues and scientists Vennard, Appelman, Miller, Sundberg, Titze, and Husler, she continues to find the work of Berton Coffin the most rewarding in her teaching, since it is extremely efficient and easily comprehended. Using this body of acoustical knowledge, the singer will realize his or her potential, the voice becoming more and more emblematic of that singer’s own individual vocal quality raised to the nth power.
Coffin was one of the first voice teachers to avail himself of the principles of acoustical science. During Coffin's first years at Boulder the department head appeared to resent his presence on the faculty, for he would not speak to Coffin unless absolutely necessary. Uncomfortable with the situation, Coffin decided to concentrate even more fully on his teaching. His first step was to cross the street to the Aero-Space Institute and take an acoustics course with the renowned acoustician Pierre Delattre. On the opening day of class, Professor Delattre went around the room asking each class member to tell his name and department. Upon hearing Coffin's words, "the voice department," Delattre stopped the procedure and said sternly, "Well, it's about time one of you people got over here. We have a lot to teach you." This moment marked the beginning of Coffin's avid interest in the science of acoustics as they relate to music and vocal technique, culminating in the 1976 publication of Sounds of Singing and Overtones of Bel Canto in 1980. His chart, published early in the continuum of voice science (1967), makes it possible to train students in the art of specific vowel modifications and thereby to teach them to find the singer’s formant (the overtone of “ring”) instinctively.
Divas of Mozart's Day