10 Questions for Carol Baggott-Forte

Since 1977 Canadian voice teacher, Carol Baggott-Forte has taught singing based on vocal health and laryngeal function to many of Canada’s finest classical and music theatre singers. Her rational method of instruction is rooted in organic natural responses innate to all voices based on the vocal pedagogy of Cornelius L. Reid.

Recently she has expanded her teaching by invitation to include master class workshops in France (Paris & Lyon), Germany (Frankfurt, Duisburg & Düsseldorf), and the UK (Brighton).  A member of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing), she has served on the voice faculty of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, taught at the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Festival (Canada’s most prestigious theatres) and has also presented workshops for the Ontario Music Educators’ Association.

Here’s how Baggott-Forte describes her own journey on her website

In 1976 I was introduced to the pedagogical writings of the famous and controversial teacher/author Cornelius Reid in New York City in the book The Free Voice. – Reid was, and still is considered ‘controversial’ because he did not teach the conventional methods of breathing and support or placement of the voice.  His pedagogical emphasis was on healthful use of the larynx, its associated muscle systems and the tonal qualities produced by the vocal registers.

The undertaking of functional voice training with Cornelius Reid and his courageous followers led me not only to vocal freedom, but allowed me to reclaim my youthful pursuit as a teacher, a profession for which I had trained.  It was a career choice that has brought me immeasurable fulfillment and an on-going future of work with new generations of aspiring singers. Cornelius Reid taught and encouraged me to become the kind of teacher I was looking for in 1974-75. — I now dismantle and rebuild the voices of talented singers damaged in career pursuit, many of whom should have had international careers themselves.  

What concerns me the most is the question: Why did these voices, including my own, require “fixing” in the first place?

I ask Carol Baggott-Forte 10 questions: five about herself and five about her practice as a Master of Functional Voice Training.

1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what s your nationality / ethnic background)? 

Carol

Carol Baggott-Forte, vocal pedagogue

I descend from seven generations of eccentric Canadian ‘mavericks’ and free thinkers.  I was born in St. Catharines, Ontario (5th generation) to English/Anglo Canadian parents. Raised and for the major part, educated in the USA.

When it comes to “looks” one could say I am half and half of both parents.  My intellectual curiosity is from my mother, the nurse – ever learning on a variety of subjects – health and alternative medicine, psychology, and mysteries of the universe. My father was a competitive, self-made businessman and engineer.  He was indifferent to music. One might say that my survival as an independent teacher came from his business savvy.

My musicality and passion for voices came from my maternal grandmother May Tait Coyne, whose vocal and musical potential was so evident that Ignacy Paderewski,  in political exile in Niagara on the Lake during WWI, offered her a scholarship to study opera in Italy after hearing her sing for his troops… Her in-laws recoiled at the thought of “a family member on the stage!” and quickly quashed the idea.  The rest of her life remained to some extent un-fulfilled despite her children, grandchildren, occasional concerts and as much music as she could listen to.

Amelita Galli-Curci

Amelita Galli-Curci

Her 1919 console Victrola remains in my home and plays the same 78rpm records as it did in her “parlour” 90 yrs ago. These singers: Amelita Galli-Curci, Maria Tetrazzini, Maria Jeritza were my idols – a full 2 generations before mine.  Many of those recordings are testimonials to what was considered the ‘GOLDEN AGE OF SINGING’ in the first half of the 20th century.  We rarely hear such technical, musical and vocal artistry at this time.

2) what is the BEST thing / worst thing about being a voice teacher?

The most rewarding aspect of being a voice teacher for me is coaxing singers to find their authentic voices, not manufactured ones.  This allows them to develop over time rather than to jump into advanced repertoire prematurely.

The worst thing is hearing a potentially great talent with a constricted voice in severe distress unable to effectively express his or her musical ideas.  These voices must be ‘deconstructed’, the registers separated and rebuilt.  This process is often emotionally painful for the singer.

3) what do you listen to or watch?  

This depends on my mood.  Baroque music if I need spirit – Bach, Handel, Purcell, Vivaldi, Telemann.  Otherwise, I might want Beethoven or Mendelssohn to stir me up.  Mozart’s brilliance always lifts me into a wonder-mode of thought, especially recalling that he practically ran home from his extended walks in the forest to write down the music he heard in his mind before he forgot it.  For a rush of blood pressure I might watch a thriller on TV.  For exercise, I play some 60s -80s rock!

As I age, I am more attracted to art song than opera – the drama has been washed out of me, I suppose. Aside from Renée Fleming and Ruth Ann Swenson, there are few current opera singers that catch my ear.  The recordings of Mariella Devia’s renditions of Bellini, Sutherland, Sills and a few others continue to interest me.  So many singers are out there performing opera that clearly do not know their proper fach (vocal category) and therefore the languages they sing in are stilted and poorly pronounced while they attempt to sing darker and louder as dramatic voices, rather than lyric. Some get talked into roles they would be better off not singing. —  I was deeply saddened when Rolando Villazon started having vocal problems as his early recordings were the ultimate in musicality – particularly the Verdi Arias CD. His vocal response to great repertoire should have ignited significant enthusiasm for listeners into his old-age.

4) what ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

I neither excelled at sports nor dance.  Watching a figure skater, ballet dancer or graceful gymnast makes me want to respond with the same skill as it all looks so liberating.  I took dance lessons as a child and was so naturally un-coordinated that I could throw off the entire class ensemble!

5) When you’re just relaxing (and not working) what is your favorite thing to do?

I love cooking with my Italian husband.  He taught me to make really great, simple meals with 100 % fresh ingredients and to safely use a sharp knife in their preparation.  I am also hooked on the internet and love the learning possibilities a Google search can provide.

Five more about being a voice pedagogue.

1)    How does your practice as a master functional singing teacher challenge you?

There is a lexicon of challenges connected to teaching “functional voice training.”
a.    Initially some singers and teachers find the concepts I offer as so much ‘hogwash’, when they are indeed practical.  Some religiously hang on to beliefs about the voice. – Ideas having to do with ‘diaphragmatic support’, ‘intercostal breathing’ and ‘placement’ among them, that often harm voices rather than help them.  – Those are merely symptoms of good singing, not the cause of it.  I once got very annoyed with a young singer during a master class in France who had lost the ability to sing in her mother-tongue’s Spanish vowels.  Her teacher had taught her to push her elbows into her rib cage… “to take pressure off the throat!”  The girl insisted and argued with me for several minutes. “I believe it helps me!”  My response was, “if you want a belief, go to the Eglise!” – It was a moment I now regret.
b.    Singers are often shocked when presented with the fact that the larynx is a digestive / respiratory organ whose normal muscular and organic activities are borrowed to make it into an instrument of musical expression. They are horrified that perhaps vocal training is not necessarily an exercise in aesthetics, but one of practical vocal mechanics.  It is far more conducive to better singing to come to an understanding of what sounds from the voice mean from a functional basis, rather than an aesthetic one.
c.    One or two singing lessons are useless, as the majority of singers will self-consciously hold back from ‘allowing’ unfamiliar qualities to emerge from their voices.  These singers continue to do what they already know. There is an old saying, “do it the same way every time and you will get the same result!”  This applies to singing too.

Vagus nerve

The vagus nerve (click for more information)

d.    The vagus nerve registers emotion directly in the glottis.  Therefore, constrictive elements in the mechanism, resulting from vocal abuse or poor vocal concepts, are difficult to eradicate due to kinaesthetic and emotional memory.  See my blog for more on the vagus nerve.
e.    How do I know when voices are constricted?: – The singer will have a limited range, (we all have the potential for 2 ½ to 3 octaves), cannot sing pure vowels on all tones nor sing a messa da voce without shifting the vowel quality. –  cannot sing high notes without pushing as the larynx is too deep and the vocal folds cannot approximate the higher frequencies by shortening and thinning out – which is their job.

I have often thought that singing teachers should take the     Hippocratic oath to “DO NO HARM”.

2) what do you love about helping singers with their vocal problems?

The moment that sounds begin to appear from the throats of singers who had never experienced simply hearing themselves do the job without hard physical work is truly exciting from my perspective. – Hearing singers I have helped perform a concert is more than gratifying, especially when they are better than they believed they could be.

3) do you have a highlight of your career, or a student you’ve helped of whom you’re especially proud?

There are many ‘highlights’:
a. Rescuing the wonderful voices of super talents.
(See my website:www.liberatedvoice.com )
b. Receiving international attention through a German Translation for my 2002 essay: “Could Maria Callas’ voice have been saved”.
c. The phone call in 2002 from Cornelius Reid, my teacher / mentor to say he had recommended that I take over his master classes in Germany.
d. Having pupils who have become fine teachers.

4) how do you relate to vocal pedagogy and the art of singing as a modern woman?

At almost 68, I am hardly a “modern woman”! I have been teaching singing for thirty-six years. One could say my attitude is youthful.  My eccentricities, intuition and desire for rational, truthful teaching pulled me like a magnet to ‘functional voice training’.

I recognise the potential for the voice to improve at any age.  It’s fun, self-revealing and healing all at once both to singer and teacher. Teaching singing allows me to have a generous relationship with others and to relate honestly to younger generations of singers… The human voice has remained anatomically the same for a few thousand years, so using it as an instrument through discipline and practical practice is not particularly out-dated, provided that both pupil and teacher are patient.  I have learned to apply the science of functional voice to all styles of music from opera to pop.   All my pupils must learn to use the voice legitimately before they sing stylistically.  Technique and style are not one in the same.  Technique is an acquired skill that ultimately should allow the singer to perform all styles.  While some stylistic vocal qualities may not be to my taste, the singer has the ultimate right to make that choice.

5) Is there anyone out there who you particularly admire, and who has influenced you?

I admire those who are self-assertive and who find their ways in this complicated world despite all odds and who remain generous with their colleagues throughout that process.

Teachers whose guidance and knowledge showed me what I did not know about myself have most positively influenced me.  Lucky for me there have been four in my life: Roger Johnson (College of Emporia), Dr.Joseph Barone & Kathryna Blum Barone (http://www.brynmawrconservatoryofmusic.com/) and my longest mentor/ teacher/ Cornelius Reid (http://www.corneliuslreid.com/) with whom I studied for 30+ yrs.  These were individuals who embraced singing, its legacy and its perpetuation through teaching.   I hope to inspire others in the future to preserve and teach the concepts of healthy, beautiful and functional singing as those teachers did for me.  They gave me the keys to a wonderfully, productive life.

 ~~~~~~~

For further information go to http://liberatedvoice.wordpress.com/

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4 Responses to 10 Questions for Carol Baggott-Forte

  1. Jennifer Neveu-Cook says:

    LOVE this!! Thank you for your insight and candor! Those of us who have been and continue to be your pupils are all extremely blessed. I believe that I am so much of who I am is because of you, Carol.

  2. As I finish up my first week of 50 out of 100 lessons in Bremen, Germany, I realize that there are certain elements of voice we can never explain in certain rationalities, voices that break the rules and stimulate the ear to wonder. Some qualities of sound merely appear and we must follow them to learn what they are rather than judge them.

  3. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss personally the vocal work/teachings/legacy of Cornelius Reid with Carol Baggott Forte, if she were ever in New York…I spent years of my singing life trying to make these principles work, and then many further years finding out why they didn’t and couldn’t as nothing Cornelius did or taught was based on organic principles of each singer’s recognition of his/her own breath energy and the vibration of vocal chords. Brilliant intellectual manipulation of larynx and vocal chords does and can not produce this vocal chord vibration from which sounds emerge – only breath movement can do this!! Cornelius Reid was a wonderful man and an inspiring teacher who – from someone such as myself who spent years with him – never dealt with the most crucial and important concept of singing, breath movement. To do this one must deal with energy and each singers is unique to him/her – and to help that person access it one must first have accessed ones own energy. Patricia Sage

  4. I think there is a rational misunderstanding on Ms. Sage’s part as to CR’s work with the voice. He never denied that the release of breath was important to the vibrations of the vocal folds. There were lots of singers who worked with him that did indeed manage to have stellar careers without this particular issue. He also acknowledged the difference of the usage of energy among singers. For the past 10 yrs, I have taught by invitation in Germany, France and UK. There has never been a complaint of this nature to the work that I do… But teachers who work based on Reid’s principles also differ in energy and approach to voices. If it did not work for Ms. Sage, it was wise that she discontinued working with him. Not all teachers match a pupil for a variety of reasons. I would have left him too, had my results been so unproductive… but they were not.

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