Monday, December 28, 2009
Today was my turn. I had been having some difficulties with my high notes and I could not figure out why. I had not changed my approach, but when I first arrived in Berlin, I was recovering from what appeared to be swine-flu, which had a bad effect on my concert (which I talked about here). Well, today was my tipping point! After teaching four students in a row, I decided to practice and found that my very high voice, what some might call a reinforced falsetto, was no longer such. It had become full. My voice did not want to sing the heavier high notes anymore. It is as if the crico-thyroids became suddenly strong enough to dominate the antagonism with the vocalis muscle while still enduring opposition from the same--That sensation of the voice being driven by the top. There was an abandon, a freedom and a sudden ability to express my feelings totally. I sang many sustained C5s and C5# and felt that the D and and Eb were part of my full-voice range (although not as rich as the C and C#. Obviously this is no point of arrival, but it is the kind of even that tenors who have sung as baritones look for and cherish. December 28, 2009 is for me the day I became a real tenor. Every time I promise clips, something new occurs. So I will not promise clips and maybe I will have something to offer soon. To the tenors who sang as baritones, Patience is indeed a virtue!
Paradoxically, my stay in Berlin this time became a tipping point relative to my pedagogy. I talk a lot about a total approach to singing, but much of my time is spent on technique (i.e. physical coordination). Of course, I have spoken about the mental part of singing and indeed the spiritual side of it, but not to the extent that I felt compelled to these last weeks. The importance of teaching singing as a total strategy became most obviously necessary this time when I began to teach two young students, a 22-year old tenor, who had an unsatisfactory experience in the conservatory and decided to seek my tutelage instead of going to a school and a 19 year old soprano who wishes to be prepared for conservatory auditions. Imagine that simultaneously I am teaching professional singers who have full-year contracts in German houses!
To me, it became clear that I had to set a path for those two young students that led their own contracts. This means multiple-lessons each week in which we get to discuss not only the physical fundamentals ad nauseam, but also what it takes to become a professional singer: that performance begins in the studio, that concentration is total mental presence, that a tone is not just a sound but an expression that requires consciousness and not a distracted mind, that an artist has a noble purpose with respect to his/her audience, that success is not happenstance but rather a willful sequence of accomplishments, etc. All this I discussed with my two young students. It became clear to me that some of my professional students needed to hear some of the same things. So their lessons became not only about vocal principles but about owning the moment, of being decisive and purposeful, that they deliver a performance; it does not happen to them. So many get to a level where they have the luxury of singing in a professional theater daily but have no conscious concept of why they got there and what they need to do to deliver their best work on a regular basis. They are not lazy! They need guidance. And I must give it to them in full, even if it is difficult.
To top it all off, I had a two-hour lunch with the great Rossini tenor, Lawrence Brownlee. I was already a fan of his work as I have expressed here on the blog. I will not quote him here because we were just having a friendly lunch, but I will say this: anyone who meets Larry (he is a very down to earth guy who prefers to be called Larry rather than Mr. Brownlee) will understand in a quick minute why he is one of the most sought after singers on the Planet. He is confident! His confidence is born of achievement, which is born of hard work, which is born of purpose, which is born of Faith. Faith that he is following his true path.
The tipping point of the ex-baritone tenors teach us the following: in everything, there comes a point when one must claim the prize. It does not mean that one has completed the journey, for indeed the journey does not have an end except for the end of life itself, but one must be careful not to turn patience into complacency. It is too easy once one learns patience to get caught in a vicious cycle of waiting. Patience is in fact the contrary of waiting. Patience is active. It is about moving purposefully in the direction of accomplishment and success with the goal clearly in sight, such that when the tipping point comes, it will require very little effort to floor that cow! (For non-native English speakers, you may need to look up the term "cow-tipping" to understand that last sentence).
Friday, December 25, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Kashu-do (歌手道): A Master Class In Berlin, February 18-21, 2010: A more objective approach to vocal technique
Sunday, November 8, 2009
I had heard this seemingly paradoxical axiom, years ago, and back then it made no sense. With time I understood there was a difference between nasal singing and the sensation of efficiency that produces a feeling of vibratory intensity in the region of the face, commonly called the mask. Yet the exact function differences that create the two results only recently became completely clear. The unsatisfying quality of nasal singing is often confused with equally irritating quality of pressed phonation. Both sounds seem to suppress low partials in favor of higher ones. At least that is the illusion from hearing.
The functions are however the opposite. A truly nasal production seems to be an attempt at remedying a lack of brilliance (squillo) in the sound that normally would occur when phonation is balanced and the vocal tract is adequately adjusted. There are three different types of fold posture/laryngeal depth possibilities: the balanced set up that produces true squillo and two others that produce an illusion of brilliance.
1. Balanced Phonation: We have already discussed the mechanism of phonation here. I wish to remind that phonation is at its simplest a two-dimensional occurrence driven by pitch. Pitch is essentially driven by the length of time it takes for one vibratory cycle to occur, which in turns determines what the listener perceives as a given pith in vibratory cycles/per minute (Hertz). Ideal fold posture includes a specific fold depth that requires ideal closure whereby the vocal folds close in such a way that breath is neither wasted nor held back (the latter would cause excessive sub-glottal pressure). Some scientists suggest that a 50% close quotient produces the most efficient results. Much higher close quotients have been recorded as acceptable among more robust voices. Indeed the distance between optimum vocal production and what is considered professionally acceptable is considerable.
2. Pressed Phonation: Pressed phonation (over-adduction of the vocal folds) occurs when the fold depth is insufficient. Too little fold depth speeds up the rate of vibrations, which means pitch would increase. To prevent a rise in pitch, the folds press together to slow down the opening of the folds. In this case the folds remain closed for long (higher close quotient) and the amount of air released is less. The result is less sound with a discernibly thin quality. It is important to remember that the shallow fold posture is not a random occurrence but rather a result of the singer’s conception of his/her own sound. Muscular coordination is a result of desire. In other words, the singer produces his/her own dysfunction without being conscious of it. When the singer then discovers that the sound is dysfunctional (whether because others do not like it or s/he begins to experience discomfort), the muscular balance had become so ingrained that spontaneous correction is usually not possible. In most cases of imbalance, a certain amount of time is required to achieve balance.
3. Nasal production: Nasal production is more complex because it is an attempt at remedying a perceive imbalance, namely a deficit in brilliance (i.e. a lack of strength in the high partials due to loose phonation). In such cases, the singer experiences a type of brightness that has no foundation in balance, but feels much more satisfying than the dullness of an unaltered breathy phonation. This kind of production gives the singer a false sense of correctness, because most of us have been told that the sound needs to be bright and forward. As I explain above, when an imbalance in the phonation process has been produced for a long time, spontaneous correction is usually not possible. However a spontaneous pacifier is possible and that is nasality. To the singer’s ear, the tone is brighter and feels more “forward” because of the nasal vibration, which the singer, who has not experienced the intense frontal sensations that accompany proper phonation, mistakes for mask resonance.
Another element in this process is laryngeal height. A high larynx is most often a result of pressed phonation, which produces increased sub-glottal pressure that the laryngeal depressors cannot sustain. However an imbalance between laryngeal depressors and levitators can produce a high larynx in the case of balanced phonation or even loose phonation. This is to say that nasality is not dependent upon a high larynx.
The remedy for nasality is better glottal closure because nasality is usually introduced to make up for the lack of brilliance that would be a normal result of balanced phonation. To induce better closure it is common knowledge that nasal consonants like [m], [n] or “ng” help bring the vocal folds closure together. A nasal vowel, for some reason does not. My guess in this case is that the nasal consonants cause an occlusion of the vocal tract, which has proven to influence greater glottal efficiency. To have an influence on phonation, it makes sense that the consonants that occlude the vocal tract must be continuants. For that reason, voiced fricatives like [v] and [z] have proven particularly effective in increasing efficiency of phonation. In the case of the nasal continuants, it would seem that their efficiency factor trumps whatever ill effects might be otherwise produced by nasality. It should be clear therefore that nasal continuants are not used for their nasality but rather for the positive effect of their occlusion. In this way, we can understand why nasal vowels do not help phonation.
It is also my observation that nasality is more common with vowels that are prone to tongue tension. When there is glottal inefficiency (either pressed or loose phonation), the tongue is often recruited (pulled back) to help reduce the resulting instability in the larynx. Because the vowel [i] is produced with a considerably elevated back-of-the tongue, it has been very helpful in inducing more efficient phonation. In other words, the muscular action innate to the production of the [i] vowel counters the retraction of the tongue that is associated with inefficiency. I should caution that the [i] vowel is not a full-proof tool. The statement above regarding a requirement of time to change imbalance is important. The [i] vowel may produce the quickest difference in the direction of efficiency, but it does not guarantee efficiency. That is why a singer can sing a very good quality scale on the [i] vowel and has a terrible time doing the same on [a]. Nevertheless, the [i] vowel over time can stabilize efficiency such that production of other vowels also become more efficient. The [u] is particularly prone to inefficiency. When dealing with breathy phonation, I would employ vowels in the sequence [i], [a], [u].
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
So I celebrate with all of you our 100th blog (101 actually) and look forward to another 100.
Thank you to the over 2000 readers in the United States, Canada and Great Britain!
Ich danke den vielen Lesern aus Deutschland!
Jag tackar många läsare från Sverige som varit mest konsekvent och aktiv läsare sedan början av bloggen.
And a collective thanks to the readers from 47 countries on all the continents (minus Antarctica--What no singers down there?).