What will we talk about?
- Is it important if I was born with big or tiny voice?
- Do I need to study languages?
- I’m 18 and just starting. Is it too late?
- What a teacher cannot give?
I’d rather read than watch.
No problem! Just scroll down for the transcript.
Many people who really loved me and appreciated me, tried to tell me not to become a singer. For example, Professor Imre Földes, whom I have already mentioned, and who was my music history teacher at the college. He said he would beg me on his knees to let go of this stupid fancy, because I couldn’t be successful as a singer, and should just pick musicology or something else that was sensible. He said that he didn’t want to hurt me, it was his affection for me that was speaking. It was the same with my piano teacher, Ilona Prunyi, (previously Júlia Hamari’s accompanist), who always said:
Klárika, this just ISN’T a voice!
In all my exams, I always got the same feedback: this just ISN’T a voice! But they never managed to discourage me, because at the same time there were certain other people, who would pat me on the cheek and say that they saw something in me, a fire, a spark that made them believe in me.
I asked Kati, my first singing teacher, later on: what she saw in me? Ambition, she said.
Since then I have realised that, as singing teachers, we should never underestimate this factor. Sometimes we tend to overlook ambition, inner motivation, tending rather to focus on external signs, on the voice itself, but this “drive” is almost as important. Alongside persistence and relentless self-discipline, it goes with striving to reach our goals whatever the circumstances, helping us work through difficulties and shrug off failures relatively quickly.
You need to be a fighter!
I think that if someone wants to be a singer and their ability to fight is stronger than that of other people, they also need a huge investment of time and energy, indeed all the help we can provide. The readiness to fight, the doggedness to get up after losing a battle and thereby grow stronger, is almost as important in this career as singing ability itself.
Some singers are lucky enough to give evidence of extraordinary talent while still in their teens. Of course, they need our help as well, but the fact that they’ve already had success while very young can actually be a problem. No names, no pack drill, but I remember colleagues who were already mature vocal personalities by the age of 19, able to imitate great singers with surprising ease. I say imitate, because clearly they didn’t have enough experience in music or in life to interpret “heavy” arias or roles in an original way, but even an educated audience would applaud and say: “she sounds just like Callas”, or “he sounds like a young Bergonzi, how amazing!” But these fine artists, so successful at the start of their careers, never learned how to handle the pitfalls we all encounter, the failures, illnesses – as I had with asthma. My lovely colleague Dénes Gulyás described very clearly in his autobiography how ill-prepared he was to tackle such problems. I’ve had difficulties to deal with since day one of my career, and so sickness was just one to be coped with like any other. It didn’t lead to a profound mental block so profound as to prevent me from performing successfully.
The human voice can reach its peak when we are in our fifties.
At this point in life we are in our prime in so many ways: our vocal musculature, our understanding of text, everything. We have musical experience, stage experience, if we pay attention to our looks we can still create the necessary on-stage illusion. Not in a streaming video, of course: with that kind of “zooming in” even a twenty-something singer has trouble with the “illusion”!
What do you think are the prerequisites, the talents and mental and physical abilities needed by someone embarking on the life-journey of a singer? At the top of your own performing career and also busy as active teacher, how would you spot such young promise, whom you would advise to take it on?
The difficult, and for me the most crucial part, is to assess whether their voice is of operatic “size”. If not, we can try to make the voice richer, or bigger, but if there is no basic “equipment”, if it’s not there, it becomes a tricky business (in lighter genres it’s not important, because they sing with microphones – but we don’t).
You cannot teach musicality, stage presence, this undefined thing we call “talent”.
You simply cannot teach that. Another very important thing is the nervous system. I come across many young people who are old enough to start study singing, whose voices have “broken”, but they’re often in a real mess psychologically. Often schools “drain” them, so they have an inferiority complex; or we meet the other extreme, arrogance and exaggerated self-esteem – it’s very difficult to deal with either.
However, you do occasionally encounter a young person who decided in their early teens that they want to be an opera singer. There was no-one to tell them: look, it’s just not that easy. When she first heard me, my singing teacher just said: let’s get on with it; but she told many other people to look for a different career. She was always honest with everyone who came to her, and so am I. It’s not worth it, change your career path now, or you’ll end up as a bitter, resentful person. You can’t become a soloist. Your voice hasn’t got the quality.
As a young boy I never thought or planned to be an opera singer, or a trained singer, or even to study singing. The joy of singing was enough and that was great. I don’t really think that it’s a good idea to start serious singing training with people younger than eighteen. Boys or girls, no difference.
The world rushes onward, everyone thinks they will be late for something, but no-one will be late for anything.
There are a lot of great Hungarian singers, but in the international market, not so many. I think this may be because we have trouble learning languages, and so cut ourselves off from opportunities to work abroad, in France, or in Germany (although many of us speak some German), or Italy, or English-speaking countries
No-one could tell whether my voice would be good for anything. I had a really baby voice, it was very small. I’m a late bloomer, I needed all those years so that my voice could start to get rounder, more feminine.
I am 33 now, and in the life of a singer, that’s just the beginning.
You cannot know what will happen in ten years’ time. That’s what I think of all of this at this moment: ask me again then!