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Getting in Touch With 'the Voice of the Soul' : Therapist: Vocal teacher Gary Catona is written off by some because of his unorthodox 'voice building' technique. But to his celebrity clients, he's a miracle worker.

November 27, 1993|MICHAEL WILMINGTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"The vocal mechanism," Catona insists, "is largely a set of muscles, and that's the way it should be treated." The foundation of his method is an exercise system called isokinetics, in which "the muscle is taken through a full range of motion, with the speed constant and the resistance maximized."

A Philadelphia native with Italian roots, Catona feels the other antecedent of voice building is the Italian tradition of "Bel Canto": the full-throated style for which Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Cimarosa, Pergolesi and Rossini, most of whom also doubled as vocal teachers, wrote their operas.

Catona himself studied voice extensively for years under a variety of teachers. But he says much of what he learned was wrong.

Instead, he says his theories come from pragmatic observation, practice and his understanding of Bel Canto: the methods of famous singing teachers like Antonio Melocchi and of artists like tenors Mario Del Monaco, Enrico Caruso, Franco Corelli and--his first love and inspiration--Mario Lanza.

Trying to sing like Lanza was what brought Catona to voice in the first place.

When years of training failed to give him the Lanza-like voice he wanted, he decided to go it alone. Soon he experienced catastrophe. While experimenting with his falsetto range, he felt his voice collapse and vanish, becoming "completely unfunctional."

Catona discovered isokinetics while reading up on exercise systems in the University of Texas Library at Austin. He began rigorously exercising himself. Eventually, his voice returned--and the notes he took during this period formed the foundation of what he now calls "voice building."

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Watch Catona work out with one of his students--MacLaine, for example--and you can see how his sports background keys his methods.

He sits on a chair or stool, strikes a note on the Yamaha keyboard, asks the student to stretch into a wide smile and then sing the note themselves as strongly as possible, hold it, slide it up an octave--catching all the stops in between--and then slide it back down. He asks for the softer vowel sounds, Aaaaah's sliding into Oooooo's. He carefully guides his student through the regimen, sometimes singing the tone himself, sometimes manually adjusting the student's musculature, a process he dubs "vocal patterning." The student reaches, struggles, reaches again--and may be dripping with sweat at the end.

It's a workout.

But, in the opinion of most, worth it. Lyne says: "Gary's work in voice building has groundbreaking relevance to both vocal science and the vocal arts. In observing Gary's students, I've come to the conclusion that great voices can be created even in cases of severe vocal dysfunction."

According to Klugman, "People don't understand how important speech is. They really don't. It's got to stop being a secret. I just want (Gary) to be appreciated. Not in the sense to be celebrated, but to be used. "

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