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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Some Conclusions on Early Recording Technology and the Role of Historical Vocal Pedagogy

'While this study has shown that the wax cylinder phonograph system significantly alters spectral measurements of the voice output signal, it does not convey the anecdotal evidence that the modern professional opera singers’ voices were perceptually similar across recording condition.

This result was unexpected. If, indeed, recordings of singers on digitized wax cylinders—even without a playback horn—sound perceptually similar to identical recordings from flat-response microphones, then our field may have to consider the possibility that Western operatic singing has changed in just over 100 years.

Furthermore, it would be reasonable to evaluate historical vocal pedagogy texts through this lens. If the technical goals of Western classical singing teachers were different only 100 years ago, then the methods as laid out in historical texts would have been designed to achieve different vocal sounds than are desired in the modern day.

This possibility could free the modern-day voice teacher or vocal coach to discover new methods to help singers create new, exciting, and efficient sounds.'



Joshua Glasner, “The Development of the Operatic Voice during the 20th Century: An Analysis of the Effect of Early Recording Technology” (Dissertation, 2019).

The dissertation from which this concluding statement is taking is a fascinating piece of work, involving the recording and analysis of professional opera singers using two distinct recording technologies: a wax cylinder and a flat-response microphone system.

The study itself can be found here:

The image below is a self portrait of singer Enrico Caruso, who drew this on the 11th of April, 1902 in order to commemorate his first audio recordings for RCA Victor.

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