Gabriel Fauré – Requiem – Danmarks Radio Symfoniorkestret and Koncertkoret – Ivor Bolton

“What a lovely piece with one melody coming at you after another, and this is one of the best performances you’ve ever played for me.”—Mi amigo/My friend

Hola a todos. What a performance! Superb Orchestra (Danmarks Radio Symfoniorkestret) and Chorus (Danmarks Radio Koncertkoret) conducted by Ivor Bolton. He looks like a really nice guy and a pleasure to work with. I hope this Chorus was thrilled with their performance. They should be. Absolutely. Perfect intonation and impeccable diction. They are now one of my favourite Orchestra Choruses. Consider this a Requiem for Notre-Dame de Paris which was badly damaged by fire earlier this week. Musically, it certainly feel right and sets the right mood. I’ll write more about this performance later. Chau.—el barrio rosa

The fire at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and the Grand Orgue

The Grand Orgue was saved because the stone slab connecting the two towers protected the organ. But, if the vaults of the Nave are not consolidated quickly, this will probably dismantle the organ says one of the three Titulaire Organists at Notre-Dame, Vincent Dubois.

Hola a todos. When I saw that the Cathedral was on fire, a sense of disgust and sadness came over me as if someone close to me had died and my memories of watching their Liturgies (the best High Church Liturgies one will find anywhere, and that glorious Grand Orgue high up in the back of the Nave). And as usual and as expected, during and after the supposedly accidental fire at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris this week, there’s been no word, talk, concern or even mention of “What about La Grand Orgue?”

Instead, reporters have been concerned with and about anything but the Cavaillé-Coll Grand Orgue/Great Organ. Some reporters didn’t even know what the Nave was. One referred to it as “an alley.” Do some reporters not look things up anymore? The Nave is the main area/room where the congregation sits either on the Epistle side (right side facing the High Altar) or The Gospel Side (the left side facing the High Altar). The “alley” I think she was referring to is the aisle in the middle of the Nave where the procession enters and exists. Note to ignorant reporter: The aisle is not the Nave; it’s only a part of it. (Sigh.) Reporters were asking the usual ludicrous questions that one has come to expect from reporters in the US in times of a tragedy, such as “What was your first reaction when you heard that Notre-Dame de Paris was on fire?” Or “How does it make you feel to see Notre-Dame burning?” You know, I wish someone would tell it like it is and tell these people, these idiot reporters: “How do you think it makes me feel, idiot? I’m just as human as you, reporter. I haven’t had a lobotomy, how about you? How does it make you feel to see Notre-Dame burning? Or do you like this because it gives you a story to report on? It gives you work. Then sarcastically add: Oh, I’m just delighted to see Notre-Dame burn, aren’t you? It delights me. I feel giddy. Doesn’t it delight you, too? It’s a hobby of mine to watch parish and cathedral churches and other things burn. I love seeing the smoke rise above the building, don’t you?” Morons. (roll eyes) I look forward to the day — probably not within my lifetime — that reporters stop asking these idiotic “How does this make you feel?” type question in times of a tragedy. But they always ask them. I think this stupidity-level started in — can you guess where? — the US. Then, reporters were obsessed with the lead roof, but no questions or concerns about the two organs in the Cathedral. A roof is fairly easy to replace these days. It’s all precut and assembled in a factory and delivered on-site and can be installed in probably a few days for something that size. But replacing an organ like the Grand Orgue would be nearly impossible if not take years.

The corporate media regardless of country have no interest in the music of a grand cathedral such as Notre-Dame de Paris, or its musical instruments, or anything else musical.

I also learned from watching the Liturgies at Notre-Dame — from the insipid camera work as well as the U-toob comments — that to most Catholics including some priests, the music is considered unimportant. Instead, it’s all about “The Spoken Word.”(TM) That explained why KTO-TV always disrespected the Organ Voluntary at the beginning of the Messe by turning the cameras on late in the middle of the organist’s glorious improvisation, and by disrespecting the Organ Sortie at the end of the Messe by turning off the cameras in the middle of the piece being played, whether an improvisation or a prepared piece. These are renowned organists that KTO-TV routinely disrespects. But they don’t care. This has been an ongoing complaint for years and KTO-TV continues to disrespect these three organists at Notre-Dame. Fortunately, from my experience, most Anglicans don’t disrespect their organists by holding to this sad view of music in their Liturgies.

I had to search around because no one was saying a word about the Grande Orgue or the Choir Orgue.

Vincent Dubois, one of the three Titulaire Organists at Notre-Dame, said:

“Unlike the rumors that circulated early this morning, the great organ is, a priori, saved. It has some puddles of water left and right, but nothing dramatic. The buffet would be spared, as well as the piping… It’s miraculous. We were in contact all night with my colleagues Olivier Latry and Philippe Lefebvre and we did not believe it. It is the slab of stone covering that connects the two towers that saved the instrument: there is no framing in this place of the roof: the water sent by the firefighters sank on both sides and did not fall on the platform of the organ. However, if the vaults of the Nave, very fragile, are not quickly consolidated, it will probably dismantle the organ and find a workshop big enough to put away. There is no such workshop in the Paris region. The challenge is, very quickly, if cornerstone will withstand the weight of water and molten lead which spilled there. The choir organ did not burn either, but it, on the other hand, totally took the water. It remains to be seen what’s left… It will take years to play this instrument, but the main thing was that it does not end up in ashes. We will wait and we will mobilise for its rehabilitation, once it will have to be closely examined.” (Interviewed by Suzanne Gervais at source below)

The Choir Orgue which is a much smaller organ — it’s about the size that would be used in a small parish church — supposedly wasn’t burned at all but suffered a lot of water damage and it will take years before this organ plays again he said.
[Source]. The organ pictured at that link is the five-manual Grand Orgue in the back of the Nave, roughly up on the second story of the Cathedral, and the picture was taken during a Messe/Mass in the Cathedral where Vincent Dubois was organist. It’s not a picture taken after the fire.

I hope he’s correct about the Grand Orgue. There’s currently no electricity in the Cathedral to turn the organ on — and that probably wouldn’t be a good idea at this point anyway — to see if it indeed undamaged. The pictures I saw looked like the entire length of the Nave was ablaze or at least the ceiling area and that smoke would have damaged the organ.

Although, I doubt we’ll hear the Grand Orgue any time soon because of the — what appears to be — lack of stability of the Cathedral structure. Nevertheless, this is wonderful news, at least about the Grand Orgue. I should think that the Choir Orgue is more easily replaceable because of its smaller size. It’s a two manual with a full pedal board (32 pedals), of course! It’s a very nice organ (or was) with the pipes installed in the Quire area up behind the organist. It accompanied the choristers, and they also used it for evening Vespers — similar to Anglican’s Choral Evensong) when the Grand Orgue was not being played. Often the two organs overlapped and played at the same time perfectly in tune with each other. In fact, if you didn’t know, you would think it was all one organ, but they are two separate instruments. Although I suspect they won’t be using the Cathedral for some time to come, so they may be having their Liturgies outside the Cathedral with piano or Digital Organ accompaniment and with their heavy-vibrato choristers who don’t sing with perfect intonation. Perfect intonation — one of the basic principles of choral excellence — is the perfect blending of voices in ensemble singing, regardless of how one is trained as a vocal soloist or by one’s voice professor. Chau.—el barrio rosa

The Glory of the High Church: One of the most memorial examples of High Church for me was this performance from 2017 of the “Kyrie, eleison” in this Messe/Mass (which begins at 14.44 in the first video below), but I’d suggest watching the video from the beginning to hear the Grand Orgue improvisation used in this special Liturgy, and you can see how the Cathedral looked before the fire. The processional hymn is the Doxology, complete with descant from the Children’s Chorus. The “Kyrie” is by Louis Vierne and it’s one of the finest I heard at Notre-Dame. It’s rather grand and glorious, which is my preference, and gives a very High Church feel to the Liturgy. In it, you’ll hear the Grand Orgue as well as the Choir Orgue (the Grand Orgue begins the piece then the Choir Orgue takes over for a bit). The Choristers include the superb Children’s Chorus of Notre-Dame de Paris. It’s a rather excellent performance, despite some needless and noticeable vibrato from some of the adult choristers. The Children’s Chorus sing with a lovely straight tone giving them the desired perfect intonation (the perfect blending of voices). Listen to the roar of that echo from the Grand Orgue at the release of “son” of “eleison.” Glorious! In that instance, the camera crew gave panoramic view of the Nave, Sanctuary and Quire Areas including the pipes of the Grand Orgue. Beautiful. For those who don’t know, from the High Altar looking back towards the Grand Orgue, the Choir Orgue is over on the right side at the end of the seated Choir. It’s sort of tucked in there at the end of the Quire stalls.

La Grand Orgue. Titulaire Organist, Olivier Latry playing an improvisation on La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France:

She’s allowed to be half-naked on the Concert Hall stage

With a boob popping in and out while she breathes.

Hola a todos. Mi amigo/My friend and I have watched many classical music performances where a female soloist (mostly vocal) will walk out on the stage “half naked” with nearly one mammary gland (breast) — if not both — practically exposed.

Mi amigo says, “Well she’s half naked.” Not that he has any problem with that and that’s not the point. The point is that if a male soloist came out looking similarly, can you imagine the bullying, harassment, the nasty looks and comments and howls of disapproval he would be subjected to? It’s quite sexist as well as hypocritical. Such a double-standard at how society looks at the female body (including her ever-feared nipples) versus the male body and wants the guy to be all covered up. The fear of seeing the male body seems to be at an all-time high now. Ah, people and their body-image issues.

The male soloist can’t come out on the Concert Hall stage wearing a tasteful-looking tank top or shirt exposing half of his chest. Why not? Because it’s not one of the silly, prudish, sexist, misogynistic, chauvinistic, you-name-it (take your pick of words there) traditions of the classical music field with its many double-standards/hypocrisies. No, male soloists are required to be all covered up from head to toe in a stuffy tux.

There are those who like to “sex up” Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana — which some people mistakenly refer to as “opera” when the piece is a symphonic choral work, specifically a cantata — but they only “sex it up” with the females. The male soloist-screamers and the Men of the Chorus remain all covered up, as per usual.

Even though I’m writing about vocal/instrumental soloists here, it’s the same with orchestral and choral musicians. The guys have to be all covered up and the females can be sitting there with some open, low-cut cleavage-exposing shirt on.

Although not everyone approves of the “half naked” soloists. Some commenters (prudes?) find her appearance “distracting” (their word) from the performance when a female is not all covered up, especially pianists playing a piano concerto. I only find it “distracting” or annoying because while watching her I’m thinking: guys can’t look the same way unfortunately.

Then you have the tacky straight guys with their juvenile high school mentality and high hormones who were apparently looking for porn videos but somehow ended up at the classical music videos on U-toob. These guys go on about what they would like to do with the female soloist and her boobs and the rest of her, and how much they love her even though they know nothing about her! I’ve not seen similar comments made about the male soloists.

There’s also this Patriarchy undercurrent in some comments. In general, I’m noticing the Patriarchy mindset coming back in full-force, in part, due to the dark times we’re living in. Some people seem to be returning to living in Victorian times using man-based language such as the man-based “Man and beast” language that some of us thought was long dead. Gender-neutral/human-based language such as “peoplekind” that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau uses is not at all popular. These days, I wouldn’t at all expect it to be because we’re going in the opposite direction. I didn’t know that women enjoyed being referred to as “Man.” These days, feminism is really hated on. I don’t know why really since I don’t see any examples of feminism anywhere. That’s mostly gone.

But the hypocrisy and sexism in classical music performances is noted. I just wanted to make note of this, not that I expect anything to ever change about it, not at the rate things are going.

Innocent Flowers Threaten Breeder Male Masculinity

One change from tradition has been made over the years and one that I complained about for years that I felt needed to be changed. At the end of performances, las flores/flowers — a bouquet of flowers — are given to both genders (the conductor and instrumental or vocal soloists) and not just females as used to be the sexist tradition. I remember writing on BBC Radio 3′s forum, “Guys like flowers too. Why are you being sexist and only giving flowers to the females?” Well, that has changed at least in the EU. The only problem with that now is that most of the guys — I’m thinking of breeder male conductors specifically — seem unappreciative of the flowers and in an equally sexist gesture give their flowers to one of the females in the Orchestra, such as the principal violist who is standing close by. She has a puzzled look on her face as if thinking, “Why did you give them to me? They’re your flowers. They were given to you.” Male conductors never hand their flowers to another guy in the Orchestra because they don’t want to be seen as queer, even when they are.

Note to (macho) supposedly-breeder male conductors: Like any other gift one receives, accepting flowers graciously does not reduce your masculinity in the least if you know yourself as a person and are secure with yourself as a person. There seems to be a lot of (sexually) insecure male conductors out there. So is it really too much to ask that you accept the gift of flowers graciously and with appreciation — even if you don’t want them, appreciate them, at least pretend to, give the appearance that you like them as you would any other gift including a holiday gift — and merely take the flowers backstage and then take them home with you? Keep them. Is that so difficult? Instead, what I’ve seen male conductors do is with this attitude of, “Well what am I supposed to do with these? I don’t want them. Well let me give them to one of ‘the girls.’ Maybe she’ll like them. (Groan/roll eyes.) I also saw one of the Chorus Directors do this after he took his bow and had the Chorus stand to be acknowledged. He was unappreciative of his flowers too that he had just been given. Did those innocent pretty flowers threaten his masculinity? It would seem so. Because he had to walk over to the Symphony Chorus and hand his bouquet of flowers to — can you guess whom? — one of the sopranos in the soprano section who then got all red-faced, giddy and bubbly just because he had given her flowers. He wasn’t about to walk over to the tenor or bass section and deliver them there to one of the guys because we all know how that would look, don’t we? (Sigh.)

This is also setting a bad precedent. Just what we need! Another bad tradition in the classical music field. Go from one sexist tradition to a new sexist tradition. What is wrong with people?!! Will future conductors no longer be able to keep their flowers because of this new tradition having been established from unappreciative conductors giving away their flowers immediately upon receiving them? I can hear future conductors say to male soloists or in conversation with a colleague conductor: “You kept your flowers? Oh good gawd. No, you’re not supposed to keep them! You’re supposed to give them to the females in the Orchestra or Chorus.” (Unspoken: This is the classical music tradition where we enjoy being sexist, among other negative things.) Chau.—el barrio rosa

Is Opera music?

The 250+ pounds barrel-chested, reared-back, thick-vibrato soprano opera diva screamer with her well-exposed deep cleavage is often wearing some gaudy-looking stage drapery material she found backstage, without the traverse rod.

Hola a todos. In vocal music in the classical music tradition, when someone says, “I’m a classically-trained singer” with few exceptions, what they should say is:

“I’m a screamer.” That’s essentially what “classically-trained” means now for a vocalist. That’s what it amounts to. I mean, let’s tell it like it is.

I’ve been awaken many times by my clock radio — especially on Sábado/Saturday — playing what sounds like barking and screaming noise. It was awful. My first response upon hearing this was: “Who let her out?” It’s usually some screaming shrill, screechy soprano. Screaming sopranos and screaming tenors — the two higher voice parts — are the worst of the bunch. What I’m hearing is vocal screaming from opera divas with their harsh, shrill, grunting, barking, forced, extreme “over-singing” noise. It is indeed noise because it sounds unmusical and tasteless — that describes most opera divas with few exceptions and I’m even hesitant to add the “with few exceptions” part — as if the singer-screamer demands and is in need of attention, and as if s/he is competing with everyone on the stage. Either that, or s/he is oblivious to all other musicians on stage. “It’s all about me, the vocal soloist-screamer. I’m special and more important than any other musician on this stage” seems to be their thinking. Along with, “Didn’t you see the way I walked out on stage as if I think I’m a god and to be fawned over, worshipped and glorified?”

It can often be “him and her” in a duet together, or that’s what I think their intentions are: To sing a duet. Even though their heavy-vibrato voices are not at all blending as singers are supposed to do when singing a duet. If anything, one singer screamer seems to be trying to out-scream the other to see who can scream the louder. The genre being played on the classical music station is called “Opera.” But their vocal part with the orchestral accompaniment doesn’t sound like music or refined music at all. What I hear is shrill screaming and barking.

Music is beautiful when performed correctly. It doesn’t require any talent or artistry to scream and bark noise “at the top of one’s lungs” which is what this sounds like, and flutter and wobble between pitches. What I’m hearing in this opera on the radio is not lovely singing at all. Although the bourgeois “opera goers” (Dahling) who have been brainwashed to like this heavy-vibrato noise would likely say “Isn’t that beautiful singing?” — “Singing?” Is that what you call it? Clearly one has no ear for music — because that’s precisely part of the brainwashing associated with opera. The misguided thinking seems to be: “If someone’s voice is wobbling, fluttering and quivering along with screaming and barking noise — where one can’t tell what pitch the screamer is even singing — then the singer-screamer must be good, and considered to be ‘classically-trained.’” Well, that shows how much they know, or don’t. One wonders where they trained, or did they? On the radio, as I said, the two screamers aren’t even attempting to blend/harmonise their voices with each other. As the screaming soloists typically do in Beethoven’s Ninth, they seem to be trying to out-scream each other to see who can scream the louder overpowering all the others including the Orchestra, and in this particular instance that I’m writing about I couldn’t even hear the Orchestra. The screamer’s noise was even overpowering the Orchestra. This is not music. It’s noise pollution presented as “music” or specifically Opera (Dahling).

Again, music — when it’s performed well — is beautiful, pretty, comforting, soothing, consoling, can be very moving to one’s being, very pleasant, and when performed by stellar musicians can bring tears to my eyes watching and listening to the finest musicians in the world and their exquisite artistry and talent, both Orchestra and Chorus (singing with a lovely straight-tone/no noticeable vibrato, of course). But that’s not at all what I’m hearing in this broadcast that woke me up as if there were a dysfunction outside my window. I’ve never felt forced to get up out of bed to turn off beautiful music. But on multiple occasions, after asking, “What is that dreadful noise?,” I’ve been forced to get up out of bed to turn off this screaming noise pollution from opera divas called Opera.

An “All-Star Cast of Soloists?”

An “All-Star Cast of Soloists?” Is this a classical music performance or a corporate spectator sports event they’re promoting on a certain classical music station with their hyped “All-Star…” language? Such a turn off. I think I also heard them referring to their list of “All-Star Composers.” “All-Star composers?” (roll eyes, sigh). So now classical music has to be marketed to the dumbed-down sheeple using sports team jargon? I guess the next thing we’ll hear is, “Each of those soloists at the end of Beethoven’s Ninth scored a home run while belting out their part.” Also reminds me of these orchestras that are putting up huge screens above the Orchestra to give the sheeple something to watch and to distract them while the Orchestra is performing. But didn’t they come to see the Orchestra performing which they can’t do when the lights are down so that the audience can instead watch “television?” It’s distracting, but that’s partly what dumbing-down is about. And the “All-Star Cast of Soloists” they’re hyping is for, at the most, four (4) singers screamers. A soprano, alto, tenor and bass, if there are that many vocal soloists per the score. There are only two vocal soloists in the Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem, for example. But why are they hyping the vocal soloists when the performance they’re promoting is not about them; it’s not an opera. It’s a symphonic choral performances which is about the Orchestra and Chorus, or do they not know the difference? Even though I don’t like the tacky term “All-Star,” I’ve never heard orchestral musicians or choristers referred to or hyped as “All-Star.” No, that mainstream corporate language is reserved for the vocal soloists-screamers, as if the public’s attendance at this event is solely dependent on who the vocal screamers are. So they’re trying to bait the public to attend symphonic choral performances based on them. I don’t really give a damn who the screamers are and I’m not there for them in a performance of a symphonic choral work. I’m there for choral excellence; the hopefully well-prepared superb Symphony Chorus singing with a beautiful straight-tone. The vocal soloists-screamers don’t perform the majority of the work in a choral work. They sit silently most of the time, because again, it’s not opera. So why don’t these announcers parked at studio microphones hype the other musicians who will be on the stage as much as they do “An All-Star Cast of Soloists?” Well, I think we all know the answer to that and that’s because the Chorus is thought of as “it’s just the Chorus.” The Chorus is considered unimportant in their minds. Perhaps some of these announcers never sang with a well-trained Orchestra Chorus to have a thorough knowledge of the amount of training, work, talent, dedication, skill-level and discipline involved to produce choral excellence. Although I don’t think their mentality is new. In Händel’s day, his premiere of the oratorio/symphonic choral work Israel in Egypt (also known as the oratorio of choruses), was not well received because of its “over-reliance on the Chorus.” Well what was wrong with that? What was the quality level of that Chorus? Were they podunk or were they an example of choral excellence? Who knows what they sounded like since we have no recordings from that music period. And I’ve never read anything about the level of choral excellence or lack of from that era. But the public in that day wanted and expected to hear vocal soloists for the majority of the performance of Israel in Egypt and not the Chorus. Today, I don’t think it’s really any different. For a symphonic choral performance, the Orchestra and Symphony Chorus are mentioned in the concert promotion only in passing, as if they serve only a minor role. Yeah, I’ll show you how “minor” they are. You take the Orchestra and Chorus away and see what kind of pathetic performance you have with four “All-Star Cast” divas standing there screaming their tonsils out at each other with no accompaniment! See how you like that. That’s why I say that the Orchestra and Chorus are the real “All-Stars.” The vocal soloists-screamers could stay home and nobody would miss them or know the difference, except those who mistake symphonic choral performances for opera. In fact, the performance would sound far better if the principal flautist in the Orchestra played the soprano vocal solos on the flute with the Orchestra accompanying the flautist, and have the principal cellist play the tenor vocal solos on the cello with the Orchestra accompanying. Now that would be lovely; I could easily listen to that. That would be far more enjoyable. But without the Orchestra and Chorus you don’t have a performance. Period. (Mi amigo/My friend has often asked: “Why did this composer feel the need to stick these vocal screamers in his work and ruin it?”) And this unfortunate mentality of hyping and promoting the vocal screamers over the real and talented musicians on stage also relegates the Symphony Chorus to the status of Second Class Musicians. I’ve seen this repeatedly in choral performances on U-toob. Commenters often completely ignore the Chorus in the performance and instead gush rabidly over the screamers with their minor solo role. Commenters also engage in conductor worshipping and feel the need to name-drop their favourite international celebrity conductor (Related: Dudamel does it best! No, Bernstein! No, Solti! No, Karajan!). By doing so, it’s intended to give them credibility (so they think) as a self-appointed authority on all matters of classical music. It’s usually the self-appointed know-it-all Classical Music Snots (CMS) who do this name-dropping stuff. I’ve always thought that the CMS are probably wannabe musicians who didn’t possess the talent, skill-level, discipline and didn’t want to put in the decades of hard work required for being a real, serious, well-trained musician, so it’s much easier for them to be a know-it-all armchair critic. But the real stars in a symphonic choral performance are the Orchestra and Chorus. Period. Sadly though, with these concert promotion announcements on radio, it’s all about the vocal screamers and how wonderful they are and they’re not to be missed and how “distinguished” they are. (roll eyes) And at performances in the US, the vocal soloist-screamers are usually parked sitting up on the edge of the stage to the right or left of the conductor per tradition, rather than sitting back near — but not in — the Chorus. They’re usually sitting back on the left side of the Chorus in many performances I’ve seen from the EU. When the screamers are parked on the edge of the stage it looks weird to me because they end of starring at the back wall of the hall the entire time and they can’t actually see any of the performances and musicians behind them. I saw one performance in the EU where the vocal soloists — they were all mostly good except for the shrill soprano and her occasional screaming — looked like they wanted to watch the Chorus and they turned their chairs to a slight angle but they still couldn’t turn around to see the superb Chorus in this instance. With this traditional seating arrangement for vocal soloists-screamers, they also don’t have a good view of the conductor because he’s sort of behind them, either slightly behind and to their right or left. It’s a damn odd tradition.

Why is opera so obnoxious?

What is this noise they call “opera” doing on any classical music station? I suppose someone would say, “Well they have to put it somewhere!” Well I have an idea where you can put it: No, not there. I know what you thought I was going to say. I suggest using this as the noise in those Emergency Alerts — you know, the ones that scroll across the top of the television screen? — that are played on radio and television. Or use it as the noise on ambulances/emergency vehicles. The screaming, shouting and siren-sounding divas in the Opera House would certainly get people’s attention much more so than those annoying beeping tones and sirens they’re currently using. Or, it would be most appropriate as a tornado alert siren. That would get people’s attention.

When did opera become all about screaming and barking noise?

There’s no talent at all involved in harsh over-singing, pushing one’s voice, shrill screaming and barking noise with heavy-vibrato. Of course it should be pointed out that the heavy-vibrato is often used to disguise pitch problems because Mr or Ms Diva can’t sing on pitch unfortunately. I’ve heard many vocal soloists-screamers in symphonic choral performances with pitch problems, and the conductor gave no indication to the screamer that s/he was flat (usually). So to get around pitch problems, apparently their voice professor (assuming they had one), vocal coach or somebody told them, “Just turn on vibrato, nobody will know the difference! They’ll just call you ‘Classically-Trained!’” So when you’re not singing on pitch or can’t find the pitch, they’ll just think that your wobbling and fluttering heavy-vibrato is the reason you’re not singing exactly on pitch. And that’s considered perfectly acceptable with opera divas, so you’ll fit right in. Yes, that’s about the extent of it, isn’t it? There’s also no talent involved in singing in between pitches rather than exactly on the pitch. Did these screamers not study ear training anywhere? We had very thorough ear training at the Conservatory where I trained. Amateurs can be heard singing in between pitches. It’s called “singing” sharp or flat and amateurs don’t often know the difference. Vocalists who sing sharp or flat need additional ear training, regardless of who they are and where they trained. When I feel I’m temporarily up to listening to some of the operatic screamers invited into symphonic choral performances, they do indeed have pitch problems. I’ll say to myself: Mi amor/My love, you’re not exactly on the pitch there. And apparently they can’t hear that they’re not on pitch because they don’t try to wobble onto the correct pitch. They’re usually flat in between the two pitches, and again, the conductor never signals to them that this is the case. But if it were the Chorus that were flat (or maybe the soprano section), the conductor would take his index finger and point to the ceiling indicating to the Chorus or a certain section of the Chorus that they are flat and need to raise the pitch slightly. I’ve seen conductors do that on the odd occasion with a section of a Chorus. But I’ve never seen a conductor do that in a performance to a vocal soloist-screamer who is not screaming on pitch. Vocal soloists-screamers seem to be sacrosanct and above reproach. Is this double-standard because the screamer was contracted for the performance through their artist management agent and that makes them better and sacrosanct in the mind of the conductor? Didn’t the conductor work with the soloist-screamer at all privately before the performance where any pitch problems could be addressed? I know some conductors do work with the vocal soloist-screamer before hand. I’ve seen conductor Philippe Herreweghe work with the soloists. I’ve seen his performances where they showed behind-the-scenes and he was doing exactly that with the soprano soloist in that case in their rehearsal hall.

The vocal soloists-screamers are even promoted in some video images used for some performances of symphonic choral works, such as the Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem. I saw examples of that while writing this article. Either the bass or the soprano soloist is pictured on the “cover.” When really, both soloists sit silently most of the time during the performance. Shouldn’t it be the Orchestra and Chorus who are pictured since they perform all the movements of the work? One would think so, but again, by “industry standards” both are considered unimportant compared to the “All-Star Cast of Soloists” vocal soloists-screamers. And I understand that some of this is U-toob’s doing by the images they grab for the video “cover” when the video is processed. But I would guess that U-toob would also have a strong preference for vocal soloists-screamers, as opposed to the real musicians on stage: The Orchestra and Chorus. There are a few real musicians who are vocal soloists, but I could pretty much count them all on one hand. They are such a small group.

I know a 90-year old woman who used to come to performances in San Francisco with her senior-aged group of about 10 friends. She told me awhile back, “We went to the San Francisco Symphony on a regular basis for an outing and something enjoyable to do.” I asked her about it recently. She said they no longer do that except maybe once a year. I asked, “Why?” Her explanation was basically what I’ve said in the previous paragraphs. She and her group had been going to the San Francisco Symphony, but she said that the vocal soloists used in various performances at the Symphony were so penetratingly loud and noisy. She said, “They just scream at you; it wasn’t enjoyable. [Editorial: sound familiar?] When did they start doing this?” We couldn’t take it. Who likes that harsh sound?” I said to her: Well apparently a lot of brainwashed people like that sound because they think they’re supposed to like that awful noise in order to say they’re into operatic soloists because of opera’s reputation of being for the white, elite and bougi. She, too, asked when this style of performance started. She said it didn’t used to be like this.

No, I don’t remember it being like this when I trained, although I’ve never been into opera. Obviously I heard opera at the Conservatory of Music where I trained and I heard some Conservatory students playing operatic recordings occasionally in their dorm rooms, but I don’t remember hearing any performances live or recorded that sounded like the screaming noise one hears today, or maybe I tuned it out thinking to myself: What a harsh, dreadful noise. Our Opera Department performed Suor Angelica by Puccini one year and I enjoyed some of that, mainly the choral sections. Surprisingly, the lead in the Puccini sang her role with a straight-tone. She didn’t sound like a screaming, forced opera diva at all. She didn’t sound “operatic” at all, and all of her notes were exactly on pitch. She sounded more like an Anglican treble/choirboy. The one person I could listen to and still can to some degree is the late Joan Sutherland. Although mi amigo/my friend can’t take her voice or any operatic voice. And I really couldn’t tell you much about anybody else from that genre because I didn’t pay attention to them and still don’t, until it’s forced on my ears and then again I couldn’t tell you who the screamer is. Nor do I care who it is! There’s only one other sound that is perhaps worse than opera and that’s the sound of a screaming baby. Take it away! Like nails on a chalkboard.

Why do most “classically-trained” vocal soloists-screamers sing differently than well-trained choristers?

Presumably, because they think they’re supposed to. Loco./Crazy. The thinking in the classical music tradition seems to be: If you’re a vocal soloist-screamer in opera or in symphonic choral performance, you must sing with heavy-vibrato. Period. No exceptions. It’s required of you, otherwise you’re not a real vocal soloist in the public’s mind. The public expects all vocal soloists to sing with ugly heavy-vibrato and to flutter, quiver, and wobble their voice. And scream and yell those high notes whenever possible. The public doesn’t know the difference! They don’t expect to hear you sing on pitch. Instead, they rabidly applaud screaming and yelling. That’s what they expect to hear. “So get with the programme!”

And some audiences will rabidly applaud anything on cue in the US regardless of the quality of the performance. Reminds me of when I heard the predictable and expected roar of applause and approval from those in attendance at the end of the Tanglewood Music Festival 2-3 years ago for the BSO and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus after their soprano section screamed those high notes at the end of Beethoven’s Ninth. They were cackling, they sounded screechy and shrill with wobbling vibrato. It sounded awful, unrefined. I had to turn the volume way down. Maybe it was the wine and cheese that was really applauding, drunk people sitting on the lawn who don’t know the difference between choral screaming and beautiful singing/choral excellence.

But for the real artists among us: Assuming the chorister is singing with a lovely straight-tone in the Chorus — which is the only way a Chorus can achieve the desired perfect intonation/one of the basis fundamentals of choral excellence — when said chorister takes on the role of soloist, why not sing the role of soloist with the same straight-tone voice? Why start fluttering, wobbling and quivering with heavy-vibrato? Where is it written that one must do that? I suppose someone would tell me, “Oh, it’s per tradition you know.” Why not keep the exact same voice and vocal technique with a reasonable increase in one’s volume level as soloist? There’s no need to turn on the heavy-vibrato switch. Why sing with two drastically different voices, which I’ve heard in some instances? Or put another way, why do most vocal soloists mistake screaming for singing beautifully?

Dear Vibratobots: Skilled and Talented Orchestras Have the Ability to Accompany at the Quietest Volume Levels

Talented, gifted genuine artists have the ability to sing beautifully at near speech-level volume, and the finest orchestras have the ability to accompany them at the quietest levels, contrary to the rubbish one hears from the Vibratobots that “one has to sing over the Orchestra.” No, one does not have to “sing over the Orchestra.” (Translation: Scream/yell.) That’s a myth. It’s a lie promoted by the Vibratobots. It’s their lame excuse for justifying screaming because on the opera stage ear-piercing screaming with annoying wobbling vibrato is the standard tradition. Which makes thinking people ask:

Is opera even music?

Well, the orchestral part is of course. The orchestral part can be quite beautiful. But there’s really nothing musical or artistic about heavy-vibrato screaming, grunting, barking noise. It’s obnoxious. It takes no talent to scream. Any fool can scream close to on-pitch and “at the top of their lungs.” Mi amigo/My friend cannot stand to listen to most vocal soloists in classical music symphonic choral works. So I’ve learned to fast-forward through vocal solo passages so as not to irritate him. I think I have a bit more of a threshold for that noise than he just because of my musical background and experience.

But for those who don’t know despite my continuing to say this, a symphonic choral work is a composition for Orchestra and Chorus, often with vocal soloists, unfortunately. Rather than selecting excellent soloists from the Symphony Chorus — and many choristers have training as soloists and are quite comfortable serving as a vocal soloists — orchestral management usually contact artist agents and drag in celebrity soloists from the opera genre. This is very inappropriate because symphonic choral works are not opera. It’s the mixing of two different genres. But orchestral management — the same elitist people who propose cutting the health care of their musicians! — are notorious for using screaming opera divas as advertising bait to get people to show up at the performance because the thinking from management seems to be: “The public won’t show up just to hear the Orchestra and Chorus, so we need big-name celebrity-screamers and use them as bait for the audience to fawn over, worship, glorify and genuflect to.” Again, (for the thick people who e-mail me about this), the problem with that is a symphonic choral work is not opera and has nothing to do with opera. So there’s a clash in musical styles between the Symphony Chorus which is hopefully singing with a lovely straight tone guaranteeing them perfect intonation (no noticeable vibrato) in all vocal sections (SATB) and the obnoxious heavy-vibrato opera soloists/screamers who are screaming noise that they mistake for beautiful music. The noise from the screamers and the beautiful music coming from the well-prepared Symphony Chorus do not match.

Also, I know that symphonic choral music is often confused with opera by ignorant people who know little to nothing about music.

And usually, the soprano soloist-screamer is the worst of the bunch, followed by the tenor soloist-screamer. When the two start screaming together, one seems to try to outdo the other. It becomes sort of a competition between the two to see which one can scream the louder and produce the most noise. An example I’ve been using of that is Beethoven’s Ninth where the solo passages in that work usually sound like a screaming train wreck with one screamer trying to out-scream the other three rather than performing a beautiful quartet trying to harmonise with each other and sing beautifully, which they usually don’t. I’ve never heard the quartet in Beethoven’s Ninth sound like what I would call lovely singing and beautiful music. It’s usually nothing but screaming/yelling, close-to-on-pitch. So, I usually have to by-pass the shrill and screaming solo sections in Beethoven’s Ninth because of this. Usually the soprano screamer wins out because her noise/powerful screaming voice — which can easily be heard on the other side of the City (even a City the size of Los Ángeles) — cuts through everyone on that stage. Her screaming noise cuts through and overpowers the full Orchestra and 150-200 voice Symphony Chorus. If the pipe organ in the Concert Hall is being used in the performance, her abrasive voice can cut through that too and overpower the organ even if the organist is using the full resources of the instrument. Everyone else on stage might as well leave because “It’s all about her,” Ms Soprano Screamer seems to be her thinking. And I have seen what I just described countless times in symphonic choral performances. The soprano soloist-screamer seems clueless that anyone else is even there and clueless that she is supposed to be trying to blend her awful voice with that heavy-vibrato, quivering, fluttering, wobbling, screaming noise with the other vocal soloists-screamers. Then for her bow, she has to curtsy — which to me looks conservative and or chauvinistic, misogynistic, sexist or something (take your pick) — as if she thinks a curtsy will generate her more attention and applause. Wasn’t her obnoxious screaming voice sufficient to generate her the needed attention she craves? By contrast, the tenor and bass don’t curtsy so why does she feel she needs to? Curtsying looks so very pro-feminist, doesn’t it? (roll eyes, sarcasm intended).

Why do some people not know the difference between opera and symphonic choral works? Because both genres employ vocal soloist-screamers

Then we have the musically-ignorant among us who go on U-toob who don’t know the difference between opera and symphonic choral music. Under a video performance of Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem Op. 45 these people write, “I love this opera.” Except a Requiem is not an opera. A Requiem is a symphonic choral works. Opera has costuming and scenery. Did you see any costuming and scenery during the performance of the Brahms? No. But I suspect one of the reasons for people not knowing the difference between opera and a symphonic choral work is because vocal soloists-screamers from the opera genre are brought into the Concert Hall for symphonic choral performances and they sang scream and bark the same way they do over in the Opera House.

The public has been brainwashed to worship celebrity vocal soloists, but they don’t treat instrumental soloists the same way. Why?

I’ve seen the following scenario over and over, in fact, I saw it last night while working on this article. The Orchestra (and Chorus) are on stage. The stage door opens and the vocal screamers from the opera genre come on stage along with the conductor. The audience begins a roar of applause and loud approval — WHY? — as if the most famous rock stars in the world have arrived on stage. The camera shows the soloist-screamers standing there with their noses in the air as if to say, “Yes we’re here now. Aren’t you glad? We know you’ve been waiting for us, the real stars of this performance.” That’s how they come across. Get over yourselves, vocal soloist-screamers. You’re no better than anyone else on that stage let me assure you of that. And your perceived arrogance is a major turn-off.

I saw a version of this behaviour at the New England Conservatory for their Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem, Op 45 performance (which unfortunately I couldn’t listen to/watch because of the heavy-vibrato from the NEC Concert Choir. I take it their Chorus Director doesn’t believe in perfect intonation. The NEC Philharmonia was excellent though.) But anyway, it was odd to see this behaviour — including hooting, hollering and foot-stomping from the audience — for vocal soloists coming on stage in the Conservatory’s Jordan Hall as if the soloists-screamers were rock stars. The celebrity worship of the vocal soloists-screamers had begun. When the Orchestra and Chorus came on stage, I suspect the audience sat in silence. (The Orchestra and Chorus were already on stage when they began recording the performance.)

What makes the vocal soloist-screamers so special in the mind of the public and any more important and deserving of applause than the other superb real musicians on stage?

What I see is a case of the public having been celebrity-brainwashed that vocal soloists-screamers are special and somehow above the real musicians on stage, which of course is ludicrous thinking. In fact, the vocal screamers sit most of the time in the performance doing nothing depending upon the symphonic choral work being performed. The Orchestra and Chorus perform the majority of the work, yet they are not worshipped and glorified by the audience. This celebrity-worshipping of soloists/opera screamers almost relegates the real musicians (the Orchestra and Chorus) to second class musicians status by the public’s twisted logic and their brainwashed devotion to vocal soloists-screamers who often project noise pollution towards the audience from his/her mouth standing there alone or with three other noise projectiles called “the vocal soloists.” All four “vocal soloists” who could easily out-scream a jet engine flying over the Concert Hall at full throttle.

Vocal soloist-screamers generate more applause than instrumental soloists.

Another thing I’ve noticed consistently is that the screamers get more applause
than instrumental soloists. Why is that? This is especially true if the soprano screamer does an outdated curtsy for her bow (think: Victorian Era; and curtsying is a gesture of an inferior to a superior. So she feels the audience is superior to her, does she?) In the public’s mind, the choristers — who are highly-skilled vocally-trained singers — are considered second class musicians, so why are vocal soloists not seen as the same? All the vocal soloists do is to “sing” scream by themselves rather than in an ensemble. Yet vocal screamers seem to be seen as gods just because they sing or scream by themselves, especially when they rear back and belt out ugly noise pollution.

I’ve also noticed that during the applause and bows at the end of a performance, opera diva-screamers in symphonic choral performances rarely try to divert the attention off of themselves by turning around and acknowledging/motioning to the Orchestra and or Chorus to share in the applause. Contrast that with the many instrumental soloists in a concerto setting — such as pianists, flautists and others — who graciously share in the applause, with some instrumental soloists seeming to be a bit embarrassed by all the applause. One example of that is pianist Yefim Bronfman. He’s very humble and gracious and doesn’t seem to like the attention. He doesn’t try to make it all about himself as do most vocal singers-screamers (especially females). He and other instrumental artists try to take the attention off of themselves and give the credit to the Orchestra and or Chorus, as I would if I were the piano soloist in a concerto setting. The only interaction I’ve seen the vocal soloists-screamers have is with the conductor.

Conductors gushing over female vocal soloists-screamers

Oh that’s another story. The conductor usually gushes over the female screamers — as if they’re considered special compared to the male screamers; yes, sexist him is usually fawning over and kissing the female screamers on the cheek while the male screamer(s) are standing there looking somewhat alone, confused and isolated and probably thinking, “Well I screamed just as well as she did so why don’t you give me as much attention, praise, honour and glory as you’re giving her, or it because of her gender and because she looks like she’s expecting all the attention?” — again, as if these screamers are seen as gods. I guess most conductors enjoy screaming noise pollution too, especially if he has experience in conducting opera. I mean, didn’t the performance conductor choose the vocal screamers or did orchestral management do that because they wanted to feature those particular screamers?

And who goes to the opera? (By the way, they pronounce it Op-rah, Dahling). The elitist (Dahling), the class-ist, the wealthy (Dahling), the well-heeled (Dahling), and the nearly all-white opera audience (Dahling) of the Upper Class (Dahling). Yes Dahling, that’s who goes to the Op-rah because they’ve been brainwashed to, that Op-rah is part of all that. That Op-rah is part of wealth. For example, the Opening Night Gala (Dahling) of “The Op-rah” is more about a fashion show for bougi women’s designer expensive gowns (Dahling) and what everyone is wearing rather than about the opera being performed. By comparison, the opera production itself seems to be a more minor event of the evening (Dahling). The Opening Night Gala (Dahling) is just an excuse for wealthy basura to be there in stuffy tuxes and over-priced gowns and jewels (Dahling). Pretentiousness and Keeping Up Appearances (of Wealth, Dahling).

For those who still don’t have a clue what I mean by a Symphony Chorus singing with a lovely straight-tone or no noticeable vibrato, below are examples of performances where the superb Chorus sings with a beautiful straight tone (no noticeable vibrato) giving them perfect intonation in all choral sections (SATB: soprano, alto, tenor and bass):

Brahms/Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45:

This one from the EU — the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir — is superb from Copenhagen performing Brahms – Ein Deutsches Requiem.

Symphony Chorus: KoncertKoret
Orchestra: SymfoniOrkestret/Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sopran: Camilla Tilling
Baryton: Peter Mattei
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor
© Danmarks Radio

Or their superb performance of the Fauré Requiem:

Symphony Chorus: KoncertKoret
Orchestra: SymfoniOrkestret/Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Ivor Bolton, conductor
© Danmarks Radio

Beethoven/Missa Solemnis in D, Op. 123:

Cappella Amsterdam is an Orchestra Chorus in the Nederlands and the Chorus performing in this video:

The Vibratobots

Oh them! Groan. They are best ignored. They are the disciples of heavy-vibrato and they are likely among the musically-ignorant people who don’t know the difference between opera and symphonic choral works. The Vibratobots are usually from Boston which seems to be the Vibrato Capital and they rush to defend the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Or is it just one guy who writes me to defend the currently beleaguered Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which is currently being overhauled by the way by James Burton. Much needed. This Vibratobot guy trolls me by saying, “but you can’t have a 150-200 voice Chorus singing the way these two choral ensembles in these performances sing. A large Chorus must sing with vibrato.” Where did he get that brainwashed thinking? It’s rubbish. Obviously, he loves vibrato so it’s pointless to continue any discussion with him. Fact: the size of the choral ensemble has nothing to do with whether or not they sing with noticeable vibrato. It can be a quartet or a 200-voice Chorus. The size of the ensemble has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the Chorus Director wants perfect intonation or not, and again, perfect intonation can only be achieved when the choristers are singing with a straight tone (no noticeable vibrato). I cannot stress this enough. Understand, Vibratobots? No, I suppose you don’t. Or are you really that damn thick?

All of the Orchestra Choruses (consisting of between 150-200 voices) in that I had the privilege of singing with in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and Davies Symphony Hall sang with a straight tone (no noticeable vibrato). I know of no one’s voice — including my own — over my many years of choral singing that was ruined or damaged by singing with a straight tone. That sounds right out of Fear Card nonsense.

But the same cannot be said about the opera genre and operatic screamers.
The Vibratobots try to lead one to believe that those singers screamers who sing scream with annoying vibrato have no vocal problems at all when in reality they are the ones who do! Because who sings with heavy-vibrato? Opera divas/singers-screamers:

How do some opera singers’ damage their voices after only a few years of singing?

So for the Vibratobots to suggest that opera divas escape any damage or harm to their voice because they sing scream with god-awful annoying heavy-vibrato is more rubbish.

One of their commenters sounded more like me:

“….There are opera singers who sing with poor technique — they yell their high notes, they scream, they do all the things rock singers do, just with different music. They’ll insist they’ve been singing with correct technique all these years, but the proof will be in the pudding, so to speak. Barring mitigating circumstances, if an opera singer blows out his or her voice, it’s because the technique was (and had possibly always been) wrong. It doesn’t matter what teacher they learned it from, what school they went to, or where they gave their operatic debut: if your technique is bad, you may sound thrilling and exciting… but it’s going to catch up with you, regardless of genre.”

Mi amigo and I have listened to outstanding period Baroque performances, such as the performance below, from the EU — Amsterdam in this instance, although the superb performers are from the Česká republika/Czech Republic, Praha/Prague — and in those performances the soloists are chosen from the Chorus and they really sing no differently as soloists than they do when they are singing in the Chorus. And that is my point. Their volume level increases some of course because they are also a soloist, but certainly not to the screaming level that one customarily hears from obnoxious opera divas who are very insensitive to anyone else being on the stage and who seem to try to drown out and overpower everybody on the stage. The soloists in the Zelenka performance blend their voices beautifully together with no one trying to overpower the other. They’re each very sensitive to one another as it should be. These are true artists.

Mi amigo asked me why this changed? He asked me why don’t the soloists today sing like they do in the most polished and refined period Baroque performances where all the soloists are a pleasure to listen to? Probably because that is not what is expected of them by orchestral management — who also seem to confuse opera and symphonic choral performances as if they’re one in the same when they are not — and because of the tradition of the opera genre where obnoxious harsh, shrill, cackling, wobbling, fluttering, quivering screaming is the norm, and that’s what is expected of opera divas-screamers as they “push their voice.” And they mistakenly call that noise “singing” and “music.”

One has to feel sorry for the people who live around outdoor venues in the Summer months where “Opera in the Park” is performed. Those poor resident! How do those local residents around the park survive? Well, the Orchestra would likely sound good to them, but those screaming divas? With most of the screamers on the stage at “Opera in the Park,” one can hear their voice “carry” all the way over in adjacent cities where those residents are likely asking each other, “Do you hear that noise? It sounds like someone blew a tonsil. What is that dreadful noise?”

Also, regarding vibrato: any singer can turn off their vibrato — well-trained choristers do that all the time — and sing with a beautiful straight tone (no noticeable vibrato) — although one should expect the Vibratobots to say that’s not true. They’re lying. It’s similar to a string player not playing with vibrato, if asked to, when s/he usually does play with vibrato. But string players using vibrato in their playing sounds tastefully musical. The same with well-trained flautists. It doesn’t sound at all like screaming. And “tiny” vibrato is fine. That doesn’t sound like screaming. But “tiny” vibrato is not what one usually hears these days.

Speaking of that noise:

I found this article from Classic FM in the UK (a classical music station and BBC Radio 3′s competition) interesting:

“Back in the day, Catherine explains (we’re talking pre-16th century), nobody needed to sing ‘louder than lovely’. People sang outdoors, in church or at home, which could all be done at the same pitch as speaking.”

Let’s stop right there. Is Catherine aware that she just said that operatic singing is not lovely because it’s singing “louder than lovely?” Like most Vibratobots, she seems completely unaware that orchestras have the ability to accompany and play extremely quietly so there is no need for an opera screamer-diva to scream over the Orchestra.

She continued:

“There were no opera houses, concert halls, or orchestras – and as a result, singers didn’t need to produce a very loud noise.”

Noise? Noise? Did she use the word “noise?” Yes she did. She said noise. Well it’s about time that someone other than myself is honest about it. It is indeed noise and a rather harsh, ugly, obnoxious noise at that. That screaming noise certainly doesn’t sound like music.

She says that vibrato is used to help the voice carry. Oh it “carries” all right, like a jet engine. Not necessarily a good thing. The sounds of war “carry.” It’s easy to get noise to “carry.” And once again for the thick people, the voice doesn’t need to “carry” or scream over an Orchestra — that’s a lie, it’s a myth, it’s just an excuse used for “singing with heavy-vibrato” and for screaming — because, once again, the finest orchestras are not stupid. They can accompany at the quietest levels. I’ve heard them do so and they do so quite skillfully. Well-trained, professional Orchestras — such as my favourite hr-Sinfonieorchester/the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra — can play extremely quietly.

Catherine also says:

“Technically speaking, vibrato alters the pitch and frequency at which you sing, but it should be so tiny and so fast that you don’t notice it’s happening.”

And that is the problem, isn’t it? Today, vibrato is not “tiny” at all and one does indeed notice it, unless you’re absolutely deaf. I’ve seen concert-goers sitting in the front row in the Orchestra section and when the soprano opera diva rears back and lets out this harsh, shrill scream she mistakes for very musical singing — can one ignore a jet engine?! — the faces of the audience show some distress as if they’re thinking: “It’s a bit strong, don’t you think? Do you really need to scream at us? Where did you train? I know what it says in the programme but what’s the purpose of rearing back and letting out this glass-shattering screech at us? You sound worse than a screaming baby. I didn’t bring ear plugs because I didn’t think they would be needed. This is supposed to be beautiful music I came to hear, not screaming noise. Maybe I should look around and see if there’s an empty seat near the back of the hall so I won’t get my ears blown out by this woman. And it’s most often the soprano vocal soloist-screamer who is the worst of the bunch. Where did they get her from?” She seems to be trying to compete with the sirens on the emergency vehicles that just passed by outside the Concert Hall.

Put an end to screaming opera divas! Wear a wireless microphone
Then they can sing as if they possess some talent, training and an ear for music

Note to Vibratobots: There’s no longer a need for ugly and obnoxious screaming — which opera divas mistake for lovely singing — when one can wear a wireless microphone. These days with the technology we have, opera screamers can wear a wireless microphone. This will allow them to try to sing on pitch for the first time since they trained, and at a more speech-level voice to “carry” their voice as they like to say, so there will be no need for “singing screaming over the Orchestra.” Take your pick from these wireless microphone options:

Wireless microphone headset for singing. These are used all the time in US pop culture in those singing competitions on television. Why can’t opera screamers use them as well?

In the Baroque performances I mentioned earlier, the soloists have a stand mic positioned in front of them, so in symphonic choral performances a soloist can be mic’d and sing at a reasonable volume level. This is done in Baroque performances all the time, so why can’t it be done in other performances?

Oddly, on stage I’ve never seen any conductor say a word of constructive criticism to any of the vocal soloists-screamers, or at least none that I’ve ever heard from my experience in Orchestra Choruses. Yet conductors have no problem correcting sections of the Orchestra or Chorus on stage. It seems that conductors view vocal soloists-screamers as some type of sacrosanct gods and above reproach. Well, he or she is a diva after all! It’s a very strange phenomenon.

I can’t think of any other musicians who hold themselves in such high regard as do opera divas-screamers and when they walk out on stage seems to live under the illusion that they are the “stars of the performance” (hardly!) and almost expect the audience to genuflect, bow and scrape to them. There are of course some musicians with big heads and an over-inflated sense of self worth. But as a group, I can’t think of any other group of musicians who have developed a reputation such as that of opera divas-screamers.

Some opera divas are quite a piece of work from what I’ve heard and read about them. I won’t name names, other than Kathleen Battle. You can read about her there at that link.

But the audience who attends symphonic choral performances — some (many?) of whom are likely from the opera genre — is partly to blame. They’ve been brainwashed with the mentality that vocal soloists are the “stars” — as I mentioned earlier in radio promotions where the vocal screamers are referred to as “an all-star cast of soloists” — so the audience applaud wildly when the vocal screamers glide out on stage.

Mi amigo/My friend and I watched most of a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in d awhile back which is an orchestral/choral work or symphonic choral. The alto soloist started out just fine with a quiet and mostly straight-tone. She sang with an open throat and lovely dark tone, the same way I was trained. But, as she got more and more into her part she turned on more and more vibrato — which changed the pitches/notes she was supposed to be singing; she was wobbling and quivering in between pitches — which ruined it for us, especially mi amigo. So he asked me to fast-forward through her. He said, “She’s now into opera.” Yes she was. I agreed. She had turned her part into heavy-vibrato operatic music even though Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 is not opera. In fact, Mahler never wrote an opera. Although he was a conductor of opera and was the music director at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan and at the Vienna State Opera. Some people say that Mahler’s symphonies were his operas because some of them use choral ensembles and soloists/screamers.

So when can we expect to see opera divas-screamers sent back to the Opera House where they belong and stay the hell out of the Concert Hall stage where they don’t belong? Well I’m a realist so the answer to that is: Not anytime soon. They don’t belong on the Concert Hall stage. When might we expect to see them and all vocal soloists in symphonic choral performances and in opera wearing wireless microphones so they can sing perfectly on pitch as a genuine artist performs and at a reasonable volume level so they don’t need to scream their tonsils out? Yes, I’m sure this will certainly happen; right around the corner? Why contaminate the Concert Hall with that awful, ugly, wobbling, harsh, shrill unmusical screaming noise? I won’t have it!

After writing this article, I watched a superb performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana from Copenhagen. Well, it was superb from an orchestral and choral standpoint as both were superb as well as the trebles/boys. All the choristers sang with a straight-tone giving them perfect intonation. Then there were the vocal soloists, and some commenters. Some commenters thought Carmina Burana is opera. It’s not. It’s a symphonic choral work specifically a cantata. But some people probably it was opera because of the vocal soloists-screamers. Someone wrote a comment about the tenor and how he needed to learn to sing and not scream. The same could be said about the soprano. Although when she sang with the boys she was singing rather beautifully with no screaming. But when she sang alone is when she went into operatic screaming of sorts (not full-on screaming) where she wasn’t singing on pitch because of noticeable vibrato. Also interesting as well as sexist that a female soloist can come out on stage “half naked” with one breast practically exposed but the hypocrisy is that one of the guy soloists can’t do the same. He can’t look the same way unfortunately. He can’t wear a tasteful-looking tank top or shirt exposing half of his chest. Why not? No, he’s required to be all covered up in a stuffy tux from head to toe. The hypocrisy and sexism is noted. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Here in this performance (below) from Amsterdam is how soloists should sound. These musicians are true artists and have real talent. They don’t resort to using wobbling vibrato to cover up bad technique and pitch problems. There’s no noise on this stage at all. It’s all tasteful music and extremely well performed by:

Collegium 1704 & Collegium Vocale 1704
o.l.v. Václav Luks
Solisten:
Hana Blažíková, sopraan
Kamila Mazalová, alt
Václav Čížek, tenor
Tomáš Král, bas (Zelenka)
Marián Krejčik, bas (Fux, Tůma)

Jan Dismas Zelenka:

and

Here is a superb performance — from the Chorus, Orchestra and Soloists — of the symphonic choral work, Fauré Requiem Op. 48. The Chorus sings with a lovely straight tone (no noticeable vibrato) and I especially love their tenor section. But they’re all superb. And both of the vocal soloists are real artists/musicians, not screamers. The soprano soloist doesn’t try to clear the room with her voice.

Performers:

Chorus: The Collegium Vocalle Ghent
Orchestra: Chapelle Royale Orchestre Champs-Élysées (Paris)
Conductor: Philippe Herreweghe

I believe the Chorus is from Belgium, and to my knowledge they are the “Official” Chorus for this Orchestra, the Champs-Élysées. They have performed a couple of times with my favourite Orchestra, the hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Radio Symphony.

Related:

Editorial: Opera’s Diversity Problem & How to Fix It
“Did these moments resonate in a room full of opera professionals comprising mostly of white faces? The message was crystal clear from these two Black women, both top professionals in their field with one actually trained as a classical vocalist: the opera house was no place for them…After this panel, I spoke to one conference attendee – a Black woman – about how I felt more at ease in European opera houses compared to ones in the United States; she echoed that experience.”

Tangling with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Mastering multiple embouchures on wind and brass instruments

Hola a todos. This article is specifically about the Classical Music genre since that is my area of training and experience, but a musician mastering more than one wind or brass instrument with different embouchures applies to the jazz and rock genres as well. I mean, why wouldn’t it be if one has truly mastered other wind and brass instruments and their corresponding embouchures? Embouchure (or lipping) is the use of the lips, facial muscles, tongue, and teeth in playing a wind instrument. This includes shaping the lips to the mouthpiece of a woodwind instrument or the mouthpiece of a brass instrument. Many musicians who perform in other genres originally trained in the Classical Music tradition. I was listening to jazz artist, Steve Slagle, being interviewed on Jazz 91-KCSM and their Latin Jazz programme on 17 March 2019. Steve talked about how he dropped out of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He dropped out while on scholarship there, which not too many people were pleased with. He said he had become restless of going to school since he had been going to school since he was 5 years old. He felt he needed a break — I remember feeling like that at one point when at the Conservatory of Music where I trained — and he wanted to get out there and play gigs rather than sitting in school. Then, after he got that out of his system, he later went back to school and got his Master’s Degree at the Manhattan School of Music and taught there for 21 years. Then, in one of the pieces they played of his performances immediately afterwards he said: In this piece I start out playing alto saxophone and end up on flute. He didn’t say a word about the two very different embouchures required for those instruments — saxophone and flute — used in the same piece. Steve is especially known for playing the alto saxophone but also mastered the flute. He mentioned another musician who plays the flute and trumpet (two different embouchures) and he was asked by that trumpet player, “How is it that you play that saxophone and flute?” He laughed and responded, “How is it that you play that trumpet and flute?” They both laughed. For his flute sound, Steve very much admires the late Eric Dolfy. Eric Dolphy, Jr. was a jazz alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist and flautist. And on a few occasions, he also played the clarinet and piccolo. Quite a versatile musician.

I’ve become more and more curious about orchestral instruments from watching the stellar musicians of my favourite Orchestra, the hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Radio Symphony.

I read that the hr-Sinfonieorchester is especially known for their wind section. Among all of their highly-skilled wind and brass players, they have two superb principal flautists, Sebastian Wittiber and Clara Andrada de la Calle. They both look like lovely people, and play beautifully. You can hear them both in these performances. And I think they have a third principal but I’m sorry I don’t know her name. They all rotate as principal flautists. Clara Andrada is also a flautist with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

As for playing the flute and other wind instruments, a wind musician online wrote that he learned all the woodwind instruments in high school and is going to do his DMA (or already has his DMA by now) in multiple woodwind instruments. He wrote this:

“If you have a basic idea of being a musician and know your theory pretty well, you will be fine. It’s going to be mainly learning embouchure and fingerings. The fingerings are similar…but you will need to think of it as a completely new instrument, rather than think about how much they are the same. I treat each instrument as an individual, carrying over only my musicality to each. I started my serious musical life as a violinist in middle school, and still play it now, but learned all the woodwinds in High School after being bored with my high school orchestra. I now have a bachelor’s and master’s in oboe/English horn performance [ed. they are two very different embouchures], and am going to do my DMA [ed. for those who don't know, that means the Doctor of Musical Arts degree] in multiple woodwinds.” (See source below).

In comments, some musicians make a big deal about embouchure whereas others don’t. Oh they mention it, but they don’t make it sound like that big of a deal for them.

One of my commenters — a flautist or flutist, whichever she prefers — recently touched on the mastery and artistry involved in playing the flute, in particular embouchure. She pointed out that the embouchure for the flute is very different from the embouchure for the clarinet, which, if one has closely watched a flautist or clarinetist play their instrument one should be able to see that.

So I was wondering: Are the embouchure differences between the clarinet and flute as drastic as the differences between playing the piano and pipe organ, for example? Or can that comparison be made? I ask that question because many keyboard musicians have mastered both piano and pipe organ. And I would say that the pipe organ is probably the most difficult instrument to master, which I’ll explain in a moment. It’s considered “The King of Instruments.”

I trained in the keyboard instruments: Piano, harpsichord and pipe organ. It is often said that one should have a good piano technique before studying the pipe organ. I agree with that because they are two very different instruments, perhaps as different as flute and clarinet, if not more so?

The piano with its 88-keys — or a Bösendorfer made in Austria with its 97-keys with the extra 9 keys being at the bass end and painted black and the piano costing between US$256,000.00 and $560,000.00 — extend the length of the piano keyboard. The keyboards on the organ are called manuals. They are shorter and contain five octaves (61 notes) each and are stacked in stair-step rows with all the rows matching. One might be asking: So what happened to the bass notes that are on the piano since the manuals on the organ are much shorter? How are the bass notes played on the organ? The bass notes on the organ are played by the feet on a two-and-a-half octave (32-note) pedal board. When playing the pedals, well-trained organists use their heel and toe appropriately for legato playing and depending upon the situation: toes for “black key” and heels for “white key” combinations when there’s a white and black key in consecutive sequence. The toes generally play the “white keys” when there is no “black key” note to play, although one can use toe-heel on consecutive “white keys” especially when the right foot is busy changing volume dynamics and the expression boxes/pedals (not to be confused with the bass pedals). It depends upon the situation and per the score and good organ pedal technique. Those who are not well-trained in pedal technique use the toes for every pedal regardless, or they don’t play the pedals at all because they’re scared of them. I grew up knowing one or two untrained church organists like that. “Those menacing pedals down there; I’m scared of them!” I was the opposite. I was eager to learn the pedals, in part, because of the deep, low bass sound they added to the sound of the manuals. The right foot when it’s not busy playing the bass pedals is busy controlling the multiple expression boxes/volume-level pedals of the organ.

A keyboard musician who has mastered piano, harpsichord and pipe organ could play all three instruments in the same concert, even though their playing styles are different between them. Think of a concert featuring a varied programmed of works with the featured keyboard artist playing the harpsichord for Händel’s Dixit Dominus and other Baroque works. Then the same keyboard artist as piano soloist for a segment of Russian piano works by Sergei Rachmaninov and later ending with the keyboardist being the featured artist on the Concert Hall’s pipe organ for Jehan Alain’s Litanies and other French organ works, ending with the Widor Toccata. That’s just a programme I came up with off the top of my head. It sounds good to me and it’s a varied programme, and make sure to invite the superb Chorus in the performance above from the hr-Sinfonieorchester performance. We want choral excellence here.

I have played organ and piano in the same performance (although not in the same piece) and it requires a brief adjustment period when going back to either instrument. That’s because each instrument has a different feel and playing style from the other. The playing technique is different including the keyboard action being different than on the organ, as well as the playing style with using the damper pedal on the piano, and positioning oneself on the piano bench. Even though I love playing the pipe organ — and I won’t attempt to speak for other musicians — but for me, the organ requires more of an adjustment period because of its difficulty, and I rarely have the opportunity to play an organ. And it’s a much more complicated instrument. If one hasn’t played an organ in years, one’s pedal work — which is mostly played by feel — will likely be rusty giving one incorrect bass notes and “bumps” in the sound. Although one is free to look down and watch the pedal board if one needs to. Also, each organ is different in how its designed. The registration stops are not in the same place on each organ so there’s sort of a new learning curve with each organ and where things are. The keyboard action is very different between the piano and pipe organ. Then there are the thumb and toe pistons for registration changes, and expression boxes/pedals depending upon the size of the organ of course. But it only takes a short time to re-adjust to each instrument if one has mastered both piano and pipe organ to begin with and has played both instruments recently to be at the top of one’s skill level. In my case, not having access to an organ for practise purposes nor the space for a organ at home or the money for one, if I were to have the opportunity to play an organ again it would probably take me awhile to properly re-adjust to the instrument per my training. Oh I could easily wing it and get by right after sitting down on the organ bench and the average person listening to me play wouldn’t know the difference, unless I were playing something like the Widor Toccata. One can’t easily “wing” that piece! You may have the manuals part mastered from practising those on the piano, but the pedal work will be a problem. But if I were to play the organ the way it’s supposed to be played per my training, that would be different and more difficult and take me longer to get my skills back up. But I’m specifically speaking here about musicians who play both instruments on a regular basis. Even concert organist Diane Bish looks at her feet on occasion as experienced as she is and having played French organ works for decades. Also, what’s known as the “natural hand position” on the piano is the same on the organ, but the seating position is different on the organ than on the piano, even though they pretty much look the same. What I mean by that is that on the organ one has to sort of balance oneself on the bench. One cannot brace oneself with one’s left foot as one can do at the piano because then the bass pedals will sound, unless you have them turned off of course. The piano bench is moveable of course but the organ bench is less so, generally speaking. Well, I never moved it and never saw anyone else who did either, that’s why I say that. I assumed the organ bench was in the place it needed to be for easy access to the pedals and expression boxes. On the organ, both feet are busy playing the pedal board or dealing with the expression boxes (right foot usually for that), along with changing the toe pistons (which also change the registration) which are located above the pedal board, and the hands are busy playing the manuals and hopefully fluently moving the hands between the manuals for specific registration effects already set on each manual per the score, or one’s improvisation creativity. The hands can be rapidly jumping or slowly “finger-crawling” (that’s what I call it) from one manual to another depending upon the piece (a French toccata, for example), and changing registration either manually or through thumb pistons (the white buttons under the keys), assuming one does not have a registrant. A registrant is another musician (hopefully) who reads music standing by the organ changing the registration for the organist, and also turning pages. It’s considered acceptable for organists to use their scores in performance, whereas the same is not true for pianists, another glaring hypocrisy and something I disagree with in the classical music tradition. (Related: Pianists: Use your scores. Screw these outdated traditions.) Then there are the improvisational skills required of the Organist in Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Liturgies, especially Anglican. Some of the finest organists train in and specialise in improvisation.

Also, I have found that organists and churches are — well, don’t let me get started on church organists! — not at all welcoming to having a Conservatory-trained organist practise on or use their organ even when offering to pay them for practise time. Does the church organist think that someone is trying to steal his/her job? And you have to tell a church organist of your training otherwise s/he thinks you’re just someone walking in off the street who wants to play an organ and could “break it.” But, if you tell them you’re “Conservatory-trained” they seem to be intimidated by that and think that even with such training that one will “break” their organ. Even if you manage to get in the door (highly unlikely) you’ll hear, “Don’t change my presets.” So I started writing in introductory letters to organists that I wouldn’t change their presets. But after many futile efforts on my part, I gave up on trying to practise in churches and dealing with difficult church organists. Most of my experience with musicians has been good; very favourable, but not with church organists. They are a different breed entirely, and I don’t know why. It really was a no-win situation and I had to deal with so many church organists with “issues.” And most church organists seem to think they personally own the church’s organ. Most church organists from my experience are quite a piece of work. Can’t stand them. I have little positive to say about most of them. A few of the church organists in my childhood were dear friends and didn’t act like these people. So I can imagine the stories that Concert Organist Diane Bish has to tell from her decades of recording in parish and cathedral churches in the US and in Europe. I remember her saying that church organists can be “touchy.” Oh Diane dear, that doesn’t even begin to cover it! Why don’t you tell us what you really think about them, or could that not be printed?! And Diane produced some splendid programmes during her long career with The Joy of Music.

But that’s not all. Add to all that the location of the organ console in parish and cathedral churches of the Anglican Communion, Catholic and Lutheran churches is often out of sight. It can be in a pit in the Quire area, or up on the second or third story of the cathedral in a “gallery” or it’s in the back of the Quire area because the High Altar — and not the organ console — is the centre of attention in Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran parishes and cathedral churches. At St Paul’s Cathedral in London (Anglican), the organ console is up on the second story above the Quire area on the right side facing the High Altar. Then there’s the un-moveable organ console at Washington National Cathedral (WNC) in the District of Columbia. The console is in the very back of the Quire area (over on the right side) out of sight if you’re standing in the Nave. At WNC, the Cathedral Organist has to use a monitor above the music rack (the monitor is connected to cameras) allowing the Organist to see part of the Nave and the Sanctuary area. The Sanctuary area is where the free-standing altar is located. He uses the monitor to watch the Liturgy — from the hidden organ console — to know when to play and how much. During his organ improvisations he watches the procession and the priests and vergers and what they’re doing. When improvising during a hymn, he must determine when to start the next verse of a hymn following an improvisation based on what the priests are doing in the Sanctuary area around the free-stand altar, or how far along the procession is. He also has to watch in his monitor to see the Choirmaster who’s conducting — at WNC the Cathedral Choir sits in the Sanctuary area for some odd reason rather than in the Quire stalls — as well as the priests around the free-standing altar to determine the appropriate time to play in the Liturgy. He’s also watching for the acolytes to see where they are and that gives the Cathedral Organist a guide of how much improvisation he needs to do at that point in the Liturgy. He also has to watch the thurifer when incense is used at WNC before the Consecration to extend the music (the hymn or an improvisation) accordingly. Or, if an Organist is at a parish church where the organ is up in the back gallery with the Organist’s back to the High Altar, the Organist has to use a large mirror or a monitor for when to play at various places in the Liturgy. No other instrument that I can think of needs this additional expertise and skill level that some church musicians are required to do.

As one can see, the piano and pipe organ are drastically different, yet they can be played by the same musician in a concert, and this is the specialty area of training I’m very familiar with. So I have to ask:

Does playing the pipe organ — especially in a cathedral setting as I explained — sound more difficult than mastering one of the wind or brass instruments and their corresponding embouchure, by comparison? I should think so. Yet well-trained keyboardists in both piano and organ can go back and forth between the two instruments relatively easily.

As I said earlier, my commenter pointed out that the embouchure between the flute and clarinet is very different, and if I understood her correctly — she’s free to correct me if I misunderstood her — one would not see a wind player play both the flute and clarinet in the same concert. Therefore, based on what she said, I came away with the impression that the embouchure between the flute and clarinet is so drastically different that it would be impossible to play another wind instrument.

But from my research, other wind and brass musicians do mention the embouchure differences, but they don’t make that big of a deal about it, as if they have a different opinion about this and it would not prevent them from learning/playing another wind (or brass) instrument and playing both instruments in the same concert. Jazz artist Steve Slagle comes to mind who I mentioned at the beginning where he played two different instruments with two different embouchures in the same piece. This is not meant to minimise the skill level/artistry of embouchure required for any instrument, or the talent required.

Or is Steve Slagle an exception? (Spoiler: No, he’s not an exception).

Can a wind or brass musician not master two or more very different embouchures? Other musicians seem to be saying: “Yes, we can, and we do” to that question.

Is is not possible for a wind musician to go back and forth between clarinet and flute or other wind instruments just as a keyboardist goes back and forth between piano and organ, for example? It seems to me that if a musician has mastered the embouchure for one or more instruments, why couldn’t one play multiple instruments well/superbly, even in orchestras? Again, not in the same piece of course, although Steve Slagle does that. As an analogy, different types of guitars can be played by the same musician, even though the guitars — such as going from an electric to an acoustic guitar — are very different.

Each musician is different with different training, talents and skill levels. So what some musicians can’t do or find difficult to do, or have no interest in doing, other musicians can do and do exceptionally well, including playing multiple wind and or brass instruments with different embouchures in the same performance.

Some examples: From my research, I learned that there are musicians who play or are studying both flute and clarinet or various wind and/or brass instruments. I found it quite interesting.

The first commenter below (it’s the same quote that I have at the top of the page in case someone missed it up there) from the site “From Moving From Flute to other wind instruments” learned all the woodwinds in High School and is getting his DMA in multiple woodwinds:

He wrote this in response to the question about moving from flute to other wind instruments:

“If you have a basic idea of being a musician and know your theory pretty well, you will be fine. It’s going to be mainly learning embouchure and fingerings. The fingerings are similar…but you will need to think of it as a completely new instrument, rather than think about how much they are the same. I treat each instrument as an individual, carrying over only my musicality to each. I started my serious musical life as a violinist in middle school, and still play it now, but learned all the woodwinds in High School after being bored with my high school orchestra. I now have a bachelor’s and master’s in oboe/English horn performance, and am going to do my DMA [ed. for those who don't know, that means the Doctor of Musical Arts degree] in multiple woodwinds.”

Another commenter wrote:

There are similarities and differences. Fingerings of the oboe and saxophone are similar to the flute (but not identical). The basic fingerings (D, E, F, G, A, B) are essentially the same in the lowest octave (if the flute LH thumb key is closed). Flute, oboe, and saxophone are all octave based instruments. The second octave fingerings are mostly the same as the lowest octave. The big difference from the flute however, is that the oboe and sax use an octave key to jump to the second octave, whereas on the flute the second octave is achieved by overblowing to the next harmonic. In the third octave, the fingerings are different on all three instruments. The clarinet is not octave based. Instead it overblows a twelfth. The lowest octave is called the chalumeau register and the fingerings are offset by a twelfth from the flute fingerings. For example, on the flute, oboe, and sax, with the first two fingers of the left hand down, they all play a written A. On the clarinet in the lowest octave, the first two left fingers play a written D below the staff. With the same fingering, but adding the register key, the clarinet jumps up a twelfth to the A one ledger line above the staff. The flute has little resistance when blowing. Flutists are always trying to conserve air to keep from running out. The oboe has great resistance, so it’s exactly the opposite of the flute. Oboists sometimes have to exhale excess air before taking another breath. In terms of resistance, the order (from least to greatest) would be flute, saxophone, clarinet, and then oboe. So, for a flutist, from the perspective of fingerings only, it would probably be initially easier to learn oboe or sax. IMO, the saxophone would be the easier instrument for a flutist to learn. The fingerings are closer in the first two octaves and the embouchure is looser on the sax than on the clarinet or oboe so there’s less likelyhood of interfering with your flute embouchure.
[Source]:

Another commenter wrote:

“Personally, it feels like the clarinet is much more physically demanding. It has quite a bit of resistance and fingering takes more effort. I actually get fatigued after an hour of playing the clarinet but not so with the flute.”
[Source]

Other commenters on another site:
Subject: Clarinet harder for young players than the flute?

I’ve been a clarinet player for many years (over 20) and I started playing the flute about 6 months ago and have made astounding progress. Over the years I’ve noticed at competitions that the young flute players are always much better than the young clarinetists of equal age. And having just gone through the process of learning flute I can offer some reasons why. In the beginning, a young clarinetist can’t play for more than 5 minutes because of the pain of having the reed on the teeth. Also the embouchure needs to be strengthened to play longer. With the flute there is no such mouth pain, it’s much more about control than strength. So a young flute player can practice much longer than any young clarinetist because there is no mouth pain associated with playing….The reason I mention my findings is because it took me about 6 years to get to a level advanced amateur proficiency. Granted, because I know music theory, breath control, rhythm, have finger dexterity, and strong mouth muscles, learning another wind instrment was easier for me. With flute all I really am concentrating on is tone quality and fingerings. I’ve worked through two beginner books in about a month, and now I’m working through the Voxman duet book. But I am still amazed at how quickly I’m progressing.

Another commenter:

Just some observations. Not quite as organized as your thoughts. I’ve played the clarinet for a long time, flute about 3-4 years now, sax maybe 2-3. My clarinet/sax teacher is convinced from his own experience and that of teaching others that your conclusion that the clarinet is the most difficult of the three for the same reason. He would much rather teach the clarinet first if a student is interested in learning more than one instrument. From what he has seen it is easier for a clarinetist to switch to the flute and sax than flute and sax players to learn the clarinet later. An observation of my own is that it seems harder to keep the flute embochure in shape when I’m playing the clarinet a lot and maybe not keeping up with the flute like I should. I can’t slack off for too long on the flute or it really shows.

Another commenter:

I remember my 6th grade band director telling us the flute was the easiest instrument to learn and the clarinet was a bit harder. The clarinet section always seemed to lag behind a bit. Metal clarinets still have the same mouthpiece/reed set-up. That seems to be what gives young players fits. The embouchure is difficult to master for them.
[Source: The Clarinet BBoard: Clarinet harder for young players than the flute?]

Then, at least one commenter on this site said: “I play both woodwind and brass instruments.”

Well, that is my point. That person has learned very different embouchures in order to play woodwinds and brass instruments, so it can be done. It seems that the musician has to practise/play both instruments to keep them up at a proficient level and not let one of them fall behind, because that’s where some musicians run into trouble from what I’m reading them say. Similar to myself in that I’m not as proficient on the pipe organ because I don’t have a organ to practise on.

While writing this article I talked with mi amigo/my friend about this topic. He asked: So why couldn’t one play flute then clarinet, for example, in the same performance? (Not the same piece). Like you say, it doesn’t sound as difficult as going from piano to pipe organ and all that you’ve detailed about the organ, which has a lot more going on than “what the mouth, lips and face do with the instrument” (embouchure). It sounds like to me that there’s a lot more to playing pipe organ than the embouchure factor with either flute or clarinet. And from your research, those who have mentioned the embouchure differences really haven’t made that big of a deal about it.

I noticed that the third chair clarinetist (the guy with the thick shoulder-length grey hair) in the hr-Sinfonieorchester also played the bass clarinet in the same concert. He played the bass clarinet in the Bartók piece: Der wunderbare Mandarin. You can see him playing the bass clarinet at 3.55 in this video:

Then in the Brahms piece on the same programme, he played the soprano clarinet. The bass clarinet is often mistaken for a saxophone. And, the embouchures are not the same for the two instruments from my understanding. [Source]. You can see him playing the soprano clarinet at 12.58 in this video:

Another commenter wrote:

“It’s my impression that most classically trained bass clarinetists use an embouchure that’s reasonably similar to what they use on soprano clarinet. Especially, in having the bass clarinet mouthpiece at an angle rather than playing it straight on (ie, like a saxophone).

That said, I’ve had a series of interesting conversations with a local friend who is a fine classical bass clarinetist. It’s his impression that while most bass clarinetists use a soprano clarinet kind of embouchure there are some classical bass clarinetists on the cutting edge who are exploring non-traditional embouchures.

I, personally, use what I describe as a “hybrid” embouchure in that I take a lot of the mouthpiece beak into my mouth and lift my front teeth off the mouthpiece. I don’t curl my top lip under my teeth as in a “double” embouchure. At most, I’ll have a very thin amount of lip under the teeth. Finally, I puff my checks (I only do this on bass clarinet). I also play the bass clarinet so the mouthpiece has an angle similar to what I use on soprano clarinet. This approach gives me a very full sound and excellent response & articulation throughout the range of the instrument.

My bass clarinet friend has also been exploring non-traditional embouchures. He suggested that I try puffing my cheeks. Lo and behold, it made a positive difference!”

And another commenter:

“Here’s an update…for me, the embouchure I’m using is not a sax nor a true Bb Clarinet embouchure, but more of a hybrid. I guess the best way to describe it is “it’s a bass clarinet embouchure”. The first 15-20 minutes I was wondering if it was going to work out, but with a bit of patience and long tones the sound got better and better.”
[Source: Here and here.]

The use of vibrato:

I was also curious about the use of vibrato. The flautist has to master the skilled use of vibrato, as do other instruments. I mention the flute in particular because I’ve been paying special attention to the principal flautists of the hr-Sinfonieorchester.

As for vibrato added to flute playing, from my understanding, vibrato technique on the flute should be applied carefully and tastefully as an expressive part of one’s playing, rather than used for every note. When used too often, it can detract from a performance. Yeah, tell me about it! Just like it distracts from a performance when operatic singers screamers are unfortunately invited into a symphonic choral performance, for example, and mistake that for opera, barking and screaming their way through the solo vocal parts. Their annoying voice with heavy-vibrato does not match the choral sound at all, assuming that the Symphony Chorus is singing with a beautiful straight tone. Vibrato on the flute should be seen as an enhancer of already excellent flute tone. It should not be used as a means to cover up tone or intonation problems. Again, think an operatic singer screaming diva in a symphonic choral performance or in an opera. The flautist should be able to play with solid, consistent, non-vibrato sound, and that is just as critical in one’s playing as mastering the vibrato technique for added artistry.

If only operatic singers screamers could grasp that same concept of vibrato rather than rearing back and belting out/harshly screaming with a wobbling, fluttering and quivering voice every note they propel from their mouth like a jet engine where the listener is trying to deceiver what notes this diva-screamer is trying to “sing” because they’re singing or rather screaming in between pitches/notes making their screaming sharp or flat. With operatic screamers and with ill-prepared Orchestra Choruses singing with very noticeable annoying vibrato preventing perfect intonation, too often their poor use of vibrato is for covering up bad vocal technique and their inability to sing on pitch. Orchestras are quite skilled at playing extremely softly so the long-held myth that one must scream to “sing over the Orchestra” is brainwashed nonsense that the Vibratobots among us love to spam all over the internet to justify their ugly, wobbling, fluttering, quivering, heavy-vibrato harsh screaming. There’s nothing remotely musical about screaming. Any fool can scream. Listen to how quietly and absolutely beautifully my favourite Orchestra, the hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Radio Symphony plays at times, according to the scores markings of course. I’ve seen a few vocal screamers (invited vocal soloists) rear back and needlessly scream over the hr-Sinfonieorchester per the “singers”/screamers brainwashing and I had to click off. Such ugly screaming ruined the performance for me.

My own experience: Being a “choral person” my degree programme was in the vocal music concentration (piano major, voice and organ double minors), not in the instrumental concentration. I served as piano accompanist for — what seemed like — half of the Conservatory (orchestral musicians mostly, a few vocalists). I’m exaggerating a bit, but the point is that I had too many people to accompany. The faculty director for the Accompanying Department kept sending people to me to see if I would accompany them, in part, because I was also piano accompanist for the Conservatory’s Concert Choir. I initially appreciated all of the referrals from her and was complimented/flattered by them. But, after awhile it just became too much — I had too many students — and because she had referred them to me I was hesitant to say, “No, I have too many musicians already to accompany. You’ll have to find somebody else. Why don’t you try that stuck-on-herself, ugly-personality pianist with her big head who is seemingly jealous of any pianist around here who works on or even sight-reads the same pieces she’s played and who plays all the piano concerti around here on campus where no one else has the opportunity. Why don’t you ask her? You know who I’m talking about. Some of us call her ‘The Concerto Swine’ because she hogs all of the concerto opportunities. Maybe that jealous piece of work will take you on.” The thing is: I always tried to be nice to her when I saw her on campus and I even complimented her playing, which took a lot from me considering the way she treated me. She never did the same to me. All she would do was criticise me even to my face and around other students and tell me how many wrong notes she had heard me play while I was sight-reading one of the pieces she had played. I thought but didn’t say to her: Did you sight-read that concerto perfectly when you sight-read it, Ms Witch? And you have nothing better to do with your day than to stand outside my practise room listening to me sight-read or practise repertoire? Don’t you have another concerto to learn or something showy that you should be working on rather than worrying about what I’m doing in my practise room? What is wrong with you, ‘Concerto Swine’?” But she wanted nothing to do with me, and I never understood what I had done to her to cause her to behave like this to me. My music friends later said that they thought she was jealous of me — and that’s why she acted the way she did towards me (cold and belligerent) — because of all the piano accompanying I did on campus. I said to them: But she’s a Performance Major in Piano (Bachelor of Music Degree). She’s not in accompanying or in my degree programme, although as a Piano Major I was trained more like a Performance Major than most of the other pianists in the BME degree programme. My friends said: Maybe she’s confused and realised after being here awhile that she doesn’t really want to perform after all. That may have been the case, because I found her online in recent years and today that’s what she’s doing: Accompanying. She’s not concertising or playing with orchestras. Now anyone can have memory slips while performing, but maybe her multiple and scary memory slips during concerto performances made her re-think things. In one of her performances with the Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, the whole thing (the concerto she was playing) almost shut down entirely because she didn’t come in at the right time because of a memory slip. Then, sections of the Orchestra were to get their entrance cue from the piano so they didn’t come in either, and other sections didn’t come in. Let’s just say the sound was pretty bare at one point. I thought the conductor was going to have to take his score over to her and whisper, “Let’s start here, dear, play something!…try this again.” And tell the same to the Orchestra. But finally, she played something that got it back on track but it was very obvious she was having a major memory slip. I think some of us started looking at each other in the audience when this happened as to say: Is she going to get through this? Did I rub that in her face? No. I either told her that I enjoyed her performance or I said nothing. On that occasion, I probably said nothing because saying that I enjoyed it could come off as being sarcastic considering her major memory problem during the performance. In one or two other concerto performances, she also had memory slips, but they were not as severe as this one. Of course if she had used her score with a page turner this wouldn’t have happened. But by silly tradition, pianists are not supposed to use their scores (roll eyes) in performance. (Related: Pianists: Use your scores. Screw these outdated traditions.) Also, interestingly, I had a very good rapport with her piano professor. She was very nice to me. I even helped her on one occasion. Hope you enjoyed that little “behind the scenes” story from my Conservatory experience.

The accompanying I did was interesting but I really didn’t learn much about each instrument unfortunately, because that was not the purpose of it. The purpose was accompanying experience. It was good experience but it became too much with rehearsals and end-of-semester juries and that sort of thing. The Conservatory required piano majors in the BME degree programme vocal concentration to accompany three musicians. Well, I had far more than that, along with the repertoire for my choral accompanying and my own piano major, organ and voice minors repertoire. And I chose to do three years for the minors as opposed to the required two years.

Maybe they have changed things by now, but I really think that the two concentrations (vocal and instrumental/orchestral) should overlap at least some so that each concentration has a knowledge of the other. Choral people should know as much about each instrument as possible, at least in a basic sense. I don’t mean studying to play each instrument necessarily but at least know the basics “on paper.” Maybe spend a week on each orchestral instrument with demonstrations about the instrument. The degree programme time would be better spent on that rather than some of these useless courses (such as algebra) that we were required to take — and I questioned at the time — in order to earn the degree. Their thinking: “But the Choral Music Director in a public school might need to teach algebra if the algebra teacher is out sick.” (roll eyes) I said: Screw that. Give the algebra classes a study hall that day. (lol) But that was the rationale used for having us in the Conservatory’s vocal concentration for the Bachelor of Music Education degree study algebra. And I’ve not used algebra since the day I took the final exam! In the long run, what a waste of time that class was.

At this point in life and especially after watching many performances by the superb hr-Sinfonieorchester, as I said earlier I’ve become quite curious about some of the orchestral instruments and for awhile have been thinking of studying the violin. After a few classes I’m sure I would be at a level to audition for Second Concertmaster with the hr-Sinfonieorchester, don’t you think? Even if that chair isn’t available. Move over superb Second Concertmaster, Florin Silviu Iliescu. You’re now third chair, mi amor. No dear reader, I haven’t gone insane. Not quite yet. I’m just joking if you don’t already know my usually-sarcastic sense of humour. But that is what some of the people who came to me for piano instruction thought. Yes they expected to be able to play one of the extremely difficult Rachmaninov Études-Tableaux in a couple of weeks apparently just because they were “sitting down with me at the piano” and they expected to play it just like me in a few classes, without having any prior piano training at all. Insane. I had multiple prospective students tell me about the difficult pieces they had heard and expected to play in a matter of a couple of classes. Astounding. Of course I didn’t tell them any differently. I didn’t really say anything other than, “Oh they are lovely pieces and very difficult.” I thought I would just allow my student to slowly take it all in and realise the mistake in their thinking. I have no idea where they acquired that thinking. Perhaps from watching one of those one-finger play-by-number infomercials on television where the key lights up on the small electronic keyboard (not even Digital and without full-sized keys) when you touch it? Or did they get this thinking through our US instant-gratification pop culture? I couldn’t tell you where they got it, but these students didn’t stay with me. After they realised there was some work involved, they were gone.

And I suspect the same is true for all instruments. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks. The same is true for all musical instruments. It’s just that a well-trained, true artist makes it look so easy and effortless, or that’s the way we were trained that it’s supposed to look. Perhaps that’s, in part, where some people acquire this thinking that, “Oh it’s so easy, only a few classes will be needed for me to play just like well-trained outstanding musicians one has seen perform.” Chau.—el barrio rosa

Related:

Since I already play the flute, how different is it to play the clarinet in terms of difficulty?

Why the organ really is king of musical instruments