By Ellie Seligmann
The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice, 2nd Ed.
By Barbara M. Doscher
Scarecrow Press, 1994.
††††††††††† Dr. Doscher spent her career teaching voice and voice pedagogy at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she also met and studied with Dr. Berton Coffin. Dr. Doscher credits Coffin for the inspiration and instruction in formants and vowel modification, for which she became an international authority during the 1980ís and 1990ís.† During her tenure at CU, Doscher was a popular clinician and keynote speaker, and authored numerous articles on singing and voice pedagogy.
††††††††††† Doscherís book addresses a wide range of topics pertaining to the singing voice.†† The first five chapters discuss the anatomy and mechanics of human sound production.† The next two chapters address vocal resonance, fixed formants and vowel modification, a technique for which Doscher was internationally well-known.† Chapter Eight discusses several integral, yet controversial issues of singing, including voice registers, belting, voice classification, and vibrato.† A very brief final chapter ties the preceding topics together into what she calls, ďthe functional unity of the singing voice.Ē Finally, a lengthy and informative pair of appendices discusses issues of vocal health and hygiene.† The appendices are easily chapters in their own right, but one must surmise that Doscher did not feel that they contributed to the overall unity about which she was writing.
††††††††††† Doscher believed anatomy and mechanics were so important to the functional unity of the singing voice that she devoted five chapters to the subject.† There is little original information to be presented in this section of the book. Indeed, much of it centers around quotations taken from legendary voice pedagogues and vocal physicists.† Still, it is a clever collection of scientific opinion which lays the foundation for the rest of the book.† She also includes a substantial discussion of laryngeal elevators, a section of vocal physiology often overlooked in other books on vocal anatomy.† Perhaps the greatest value in the foundational chapters lies in the simple clarity of Doscherís writing. Her prose is easy for the un-science-savvy reader to comprehend, and is enhanced with clear, simple diagrams. Most readers will find Doscherís presentation of the anatomy and physics much easier to digest than those of more prolific subject matter experts.
††††††††††† The next two chapters are the meat and potatoes of the book, so to speak. Doscherís work in the areas of vocal resonance, formants, and vowel modification are what brought her such acclaim in the world of vocal pedagogy.† In these chapters, she presents a† solid case for the scientific validity and performance advantages of vowel modification, but provides little in the way of instruction. The few instructions she provides are vague and thus difficult to apply. Perhaps the problem lies in the material itself.† Vowel modification differs significantly among individual singers, making it difficult for the author to lay out step by step instructions that can apply to all singers.† Still, some attempt should have been made to provide specific exercises, and advising teachers of how to listen to determine if the technique is being applied properly.
††††††††††† The eighth chapter addresses the more controversial issues of singing.† The issues are controversial because science has yet to make definite statements about them, which leaves the topics open for speculation and opinion.† Doscher diplomatically presents various viewpoints for which she has seen evidence in her experience as a singer and teacher, being careful to point out where scientific evidence is lacking.† The chapter is useful and informative, although not original.
††††††††††† The appendices are unique in their individual attention to factors that affect the health of the voice, both positively and negatively.† In contrast, most other pedagogical discussions on these topics are brief and generalized.† These sections are a good resource for the singer who needs to guidance in a specific voice crisis.† Most of Doscherís assertions are grounded in basic science and thus mostly reliable. Still, one must keep in mind that Doscher speaks as a teacher of voice, not as an ENT or otolaryngologist, and as such her statements must be considered secondarily to those of a singerís own medical doctors.
††††††††††† Overall, the book provides an excellent overview of pedagogical issues and the status of related research at the time of publication in 1994.† The writing is clear and easy to read, and the information is useful and applicable to modern singers of many styles of music.