The vocal department at Carthage has truly entered the space age this week, with a visit from a good friend of ours named Dan Ihasz, a voice teacher from Fredonia, NY. My wife rolls her eyes when I introduce him this way, but here it is anyway: Dan and Kathy were buddies in high school and Dan was Curly to my wife’s Aunt Eller in “Oklahoma.” Since then, he has gone on to a fine career both as a singer and voice teacher- and it’s not overstating it to say that Dan has become one of the country’s leading authorities on using a new computer program for vocal instruction called VoceVista.
As someone who is lucky to be able to successfully change a light bulb, I am the last person in the world who should be trying to explain this technology – but in a very rough nutshell, this program allows a singer to sing into a microphone and have the sounds they make displayed on a screen. The spectrograph readout allows you to see essentially how a given sung sound is put together, how quickly and evenly the vibrato oscillates, how bright or dark the sound is, how clean the attack is, and in what way and to what extent a singer is altering the vowel they’re singing.
The first time I saw this computer program in action at a NATS event down in San Antonio, I was almost completely lost. . . and what’s worse, I felt like I was the only idiot in the room who wasn’t grasping what this thing was all about. So I found myself nodding my head a lot, feigning comprehension when in fact I didn’t have a clue. What helped was one evening when Corinne and Amy and I went up to Dan’s hotel room and got some one-on-one assistance from him and actually got to use the device ourselves, which made all of the difference. A second time at a NATS event in the Twin Cities, I was grasping it much better although I still felt like the rough counterpart of a chimpanzee trying to do long division. But I was seeing more clearly the point of it all and getting hungry to know more.
That’s part of what this week is all about. Carthage has brought Dan to campus to do some presentations on Voce Vista, which we now own at Carthage. Today was Dan’s initial opportunity to demonstrate the computer program for some of our students, and most of them seemed really taken by it. Of course, they have grown up with computers as an absolutely indispensable part of their lives, so it’s only natural for their vocal study to also involve this kind of technology. So I think they are pretty excited about it, although one of my students confided to me his rather stiff disdain for the intrusion of this sort of technology in the voice studio. I must admit that I am really sympathetic to his reservations and share them to some extent. But one of the things Dan made clear today is that this kind of computer program does not in any way, shape or form alter or diminish the role of the voice teacher. It still comes down to our ears- and also to our understanding of what healthy and impressive singing is and clearly conveying that to the student. This computer program is only a tool to aid the voice teacher in that endeavor. And once we have it mastered, it will be a valuable tool indeed.
In the meantime, what a joy to be with Dan again. Kathy and I visited him and his wife Helen out in Rochester the summer before we were married- which would make it the summer of 1990. So that’s 18 years ago- and the only times we’ve seen Dan since has been at these national NATS meetings. (I told him to explain to Helen that we don’t like to overstay our welcome by coming too often- but Dan seems to think that 18 years between visits is plenty.) But when we get together with Dan, it is as though we have been together all of our lives and are effortlessly picking up right where we left off. What a terrific experience that is.
It was especially fun tonight – once I was home at church, and Dan was back from dinner downtown – for Dan and I to sit down in the living room and start watching and listening to interesting things. Nothing says Two Guys on a Couch like Opera Videos! What was especially fun is that Dan and I seem to have amazingly similar taste when it comes to singers and to singing. I would play some video or audio for him and every single time Dan’s comments were articulated as though he were reading my mind. There’s nothing more fun than to play something that you think is splendid to have the other person completely agree. It was also fun to actually introduce Dan to a singer I love named Pilar Lorengar, who once was one of the world’s most beloved singers before she died. Dan hadn’t heard of her or ever heard her sing, so we listened to her live performance from the Sir Rudolf Bing Farewell Gala – and had goosebumps on top of our goosebumps. More importantly, I also had the fun of rehearsing with Dan for Friday night’s faculty recital. (I’m accompanying him for that.) He has a gorgeous baritone voice and unlike yours truly, his voice is his tip-top shape from all of the serious performing which he does. So as I played for him I thought to myself that a small part of me would be really happy if I dropped everything else in my life and focus my energies on singing. But if I were to do that, I’d be much less happy – and everyone knows that one really has to be happy to sing your best. So I think I’ll keep this wacky life of mine and sing the best I can under the circumstances.
Anyway, having Dan here reminds me of how important singing is to me and of how fun it is to talk shop with someone who knows as much about singing as I do and probably more. And yet as smart and experienced and talented as Dan is, he still has the down-to-earth charm and approachability of a guy from Racine, WI.
pictured: Dan Ihasz with some of the students who saw his presentation. This picture was taken right after the projector shut off spontaneously, which made it necessary for the students to gather around Dan’s laptop and watch it there.