Friday, April 15, 2011

Countertenor Technique: An Introduction to Concepts

This article first appeared in on April 12th, 2011. Read the full article here

Is countertenor technique different from standard classical vocal technique? Should a countertenor train like a male or female voice, and what pedagogical approach and conceptual model best elicits a healthy countertenor sound? Is a countertenor merely the intersection of gender and tessitura, or is there something specific to the technical approach and musical context that limits the definition?

Much of the language of our vocal pedagogy comes from the time before invasive scientific tools. It was as recently as 1854 that Manuel Garcia first viewed the vocal folds (his own, actually) in action with the use of a dentist’s mirror. By that point, words like chest, head, mixed voice, and falsetto (terms generally based on the location of the sensation of sympathetic vibrations) were so ingrained in the minds of 19th century voice teachers that the new information revealed by this direct scientific observation was made to conform to that basic conceptual system. However, success as a countertenor is no more or less physiologically likely than for any other voice-type, provided we have conceptual models that encourage singers to believe that it is possible…

Read more…

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The reviews are in

We have had three excellent reviews so far for Orchestra London's production of Handel's Giulio Cesare. Click each link to read the full article.

"Giulio Cesare brings two of the world’s leading counter tenors – Drew Minter (Cesare) and Ian Howell (Tolomeo) – to the stage. Both handled the intricacies of Handel’s vocal writing with marvelous finesse."
- Nicole Laidler -

"Arriving from opera’s international stages are American early music star and Grammy-winning countertenor Ian Howell who is remarkable as Tolomeo, Cleopatra’s fanatical, theocratic brother, and Dutch mezzo Rosanne van Sandwijk as Sesto."
- James Reaney - The London Free Press

"Ian Howell's portrayal of Tolomeo was chilling. And he has a beautiful voice. His final aria was heart-rending and also served as a reminder that his character too, was vulnerable."
- Brian Hay -

Thursday, March 18, 2010

New Video - J.C. Bach "Ach daß ich Wassers gnug hätte" (Lamento) with Chatham Baroque

This is one of my favorite pieces in the baroque repertory. Written by Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703), this lament beautifully captures the German sense of intensely internalized personal piety. "Oh, that I had enough tears in my head to bewail my sins..." That sort of thing :-).
With Chatham Baroque, an amazing small ensemble based in Pittsburgh, PA. Recorded February 21st, 2010.

Oh, that I had water enough in my head
And that my eyes were springs of tears,
So that I could bewail my sin night and day.

My sin overwhelms me.
Like a weighty burden,
it has become too much more me,
So I weep, and mine eyes flow with tears.
My sighing is great, and my heart is sad,
for the Lord has filled me with grief
In the day of his wrath.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A poem for the unexpected Spring day that makes me wonder if Winter happened at all

Life is just the total sum of all the time we've spent
We pay our rent and eat our food and now and then help someone move
The day to day flies quick away and leaves a doubt that time is real
For though we all can see what changes here right now is all I feel.

~Ian Howell c. 1996

Friday, February 26, 2010

California Chronicle | Musica Angelica to present Bach's St. John Passion

Here's a nice little preview of my upcoming St. John Passions: California Chronicle | Musica Angelica to present Bach's St. John Passion

SANTA MONICA, Calif. Although the son of J.S. Bach claimed that his father composed five Passions during his lifetime, evidence for only two – the St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion – is documented. Music lovers will have a chance to hear the earlier work, described as "Bach´s most vivid and thrilling work" by the Gwent Bach Society, when the renowned baroque orchestra Musica Angelica presents the St. John Passion on Saturday, March 27 at 8 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Pasadena and Sunday, March 28 at 4 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica..... more

Monday, December 7, 2009

Best Marketing Idea Ever...

How can something seem so silly and be so brilliant at the same time. Chanticleer will sell 1,000,000 copies, I predict.

Buy the DVD.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mourn, Day is with Darkness Fled - John Dowland Lute Song... Recent Videos

A lute song by John Dowland (1563-1626). This is from Dowland's second book of Ayres, a collection that also contains his song, "Flow my Tears". The text describes a pseudo-apocalyptic scenario in which day is overcome by night, hell has taken over heaven, and evil mists are choking off our joys. Heavy stuff for a lute song!

Mourn, mourn, day is with darkness fled,
What heav'n then governs Earth?
Oh, none but hell in heaven's stead
Chokes with his mists our mirth.

Mourn, mourn, look now for no more day
Nor night, but that from hell.
Then all must, as they may,
In darkness learn to dwell.

But yet this change needs must change our delight.
That thus the Sun should harbor with the night.

Ian Howell - Countertenor
Karl Wohlwend - Guitar

Recorded live at the Merit Music School in Chicago, IL.
Thanks to the Ravinia Festival for arranging this lecture demonstration.
Audio and video recorded with a Flip HD video camera, edited in iMovie.

Laudate Dominum - C.M. Cozzolani... Recent Videos

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, a benedictine nun in the Italian city of Milan, published this cantata for solo voice and two violins in 1648.

Tableau Baroque:

Ian Howell - Coutertenor
Adam Lamotte & Tekla Cunningham - Violins
William Skeen - Viola da Gamba
Henry Lebedinsky - Harpsichord


Praise the Lord, all you nations.
Praise him, all you people.
For confirmed upon us is his mercy.
And the truth of the Lord remains forever.
Glory to the Father, glory to the Son
And glory to the holy spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now,
And always shall be.
Unto ages of ages.
So be it.

Recorded 15 August 2009 at the Whidbey Island Music Festival.


For more information about Ian Howell and Tableau Baroque.

Holy Messiah Source Material... Recent Videos

One of Handel's Italian duets, originally for two sopranos, re-scored for alto and violin obligato. The two arias in this cantata served as the source material for Handel's choruses "His yoke is easy" and "And he shall purify" from his oratorio, "Messiah."

Ian Howell - Countertenor
Tekla Cunningham - Violin
William Skeen - Cello
Henry Lebedinsky - Harpsichord


The flower that laughs at dawn
later will be killed by the Sun
and has its tomb in the evening.

Life is a flower
it is destroyed at dawn
and in one single day loses its springtime.

Recorded 14 August 2009 at the Whidbey Island Music Festival.


For more information about Ian Howell and Tableau Baroque.

This video was recorded with a FlipHD camera (that didn't like the intensity of the stage lights).
Audio was recorded with a matched pair of Avenson ST0-2 omni-directional microphones.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Check one off the list

So... in the way-back-time, before Yale, before Chanticleer, back when I was trying to decide if I had a future as a singer at all (and I was making most of my money wearing a hawaiian shirt and playing steel drum in central Ohio), I would make study CDs of my favorite singers (I had a super fancy 2x SCSI external CD burner).  When I was learning Cacinni lute songs, the singer I studied was Julianne Baird.  In 1999/2000, her recording of the Cacinni's song Dolcissimo Sospriro was the the template for both my pre-audition recording and subsequent successful audition performance of that piece for Chanticleer.

And now I'm singing the alto solos to her second soprano solos on a Bach B-minor Mass in Philadelphia.  

Ain't life grand and full of fun connections?  They say that the music world keeps getting smaller; the trick is to stay in the music world.