Phōnaskia per cantanti e oratori: la cura e l'esercizio della voce nel periodo imperiale romano / Phōnaskia for singers and orators: the care and training of the voice in the Roman imperial period

TitlePhōnaskia per cantanti e oratori: la cura e l'esercizio della voce nel periodo imperiale romano / Phōnaskia for singers and orators: the care and training of the voice in the Roman imperial period
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsBarker, A
EditorRocconi, E
Book TitleLa musica nell'Impero Romano: Testimonianze teoriche e scoperte archeologiche = Music in the Roman Empire: Theoretical Evidence and Archaeological Findings
Pagination11-20
PublisherPavia University Press
CityPavia
ISBN9788896764022
Abstract

Professional singers, actors and orators in the Roman imperial period undertook specialised types of training (φωνασκία), to preserve and improve their voices, and doctors recommended similar vocal exercises to promote physical health and fitness. This paper examines some of the evidence about the techniques that were used, most of which does not come from writings on music, but from rhetoricians and medical writers. In drawing conclusions about the regime prescribed for singers, we have to rely mainly on the ways in which medical and rhetorical experts describe their techniques, and the distinctions they draw between the exercises they recommend for orators, or for people wishing to improve their general health, and those to which singers were subjected, which they typically reject as excessive. Many of the details are elusive, but although the
exercises famously undertaken by the emperor Nero were probably more extreme than those in common use, it is clear that the disciplines regularly imposed on singers throughout their careers were technically specialised and physically demanding. Training of the laborious sort that singers undergo, so the medical writers assert, can seriously damage people’s health, and reduce or even destroy their sexual potency. But though a singer’s life evidently demanded tough physical exertions, we are also told, paradoxically, that they treated themselves as fragile and delicate, adopting special diets, taking walks at regular times of day, caring for the throat with medications and massaging it with oil, always doing gentle ‘warming-up’ exercises before performing, and in general caring tenderly for themselves and their voices, all of which earned them the rhetoricians’ contempt. [p. 11]

Notes

Music in the Roman Empire contains the Proceedings of the Second Annual Meeting of MOISA, The International Society for the Study of Greek and Roman Music and its Cultural Heritage, Cremona, Aula Magna, Facoltà di Musicologia, Università degli Studi di Pavia, 30-31 ottobre 2008.

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