Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Coming Soon: The terrible superficial conflict between classical and CCM vocal techniques

Reading a blog recently by a very gifted CCM (Contemporary Commercial Music) voice teacher, I became very disappointed that even the knowledgeable teachers who should know better find it easier to deepen the cavern that has formed over the past quarter century between the training schemes of classical and CCM singers worldwide. The truth is that both sides have suffered severely. There was a time when good, healthy singing was simply that: "Good Healthy Singing". Over time, the cliche idiosyncrasies of both opera and more popular singing styles became the norm that distinguishes one style from the other while the natural, primal element that is fundamental to all great vocal expression was set aside and forgotten by many. I am attempting to address this very difficult and complex issue in the next installment and it will probably take time. I ask your indulgence as I do not want to treat this issue superficially.

For my part, I grew up listening to every style of singing imaginable from Motown to Mozart and beyond. I am trained as a classical singer, but have sung my share of musicals, Tango, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Andean music, a bit of Jazz and a classic Rock standard once in a while. I grew up loving Pat Benatar and Cindy Lauper as well as Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Prince, Journey and Queen, stars of Mexican Ranchera, Cuban Salsa and Argentinian Tango, Bob Marley, Mercedes Sousa and Celia Cruz. I've recently been electrified by Portuguese Fado Diva, Mariza and count among my early influences Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf as well as Frank Sinatra and Jack Jones. A pretty eclectic collection, wouldn't you say?

I found all these performers amazingly compelling and felt that there was something vocally sound about what they did. In fact I just watched Cindy Lauper on a British television show with her clear voice unchanged, even in her fifties. In this period of world-wide financial and artistic crisis, one of the things I imagine is a renaissance of "substantial art," as distinctly different from the "superficial artifice" that bombards the air waves and pollute many performing spaces. I believe that in times of crisis, what we artists do, especially when uninfluenced by the prospects of money and fame, can save a world. For us singers, this will include defining clearly once again what it means to move people with the power of our natural soulful voices challenged by stylistic demands and not reduced by disembodied faux-sounds that have come to poorly define different genres of music.

TS

6 comments:

thetruth said...

Yes my area! LOL I LOVE YOU BUT when I tried to get into all the operatic and technical terms of vocalization, I was some kind of lost. I get it for the most part when I see it done because that's how I learn as opposed to reading it. I learned to sing from Patti LaBelle. No one can say anything bad about that singing! She kept her voice for so long so I said she must have been doing something right.

Like even at her best in the 80s (im also stuck in the 80s) she just had so much power and control over that voice it was amazing. She had so much personality on stage like she was doing her own play or something.Always deeply moving and that voice and those notes soaring. I have recently come across BRETT MANNING'S SINGING SUCCESS 12 STEP CD PROCESS. I was wondering should i try it after looking at vids of him on youtube. HE HAS 5 OCTAVES AND HE SAID SOMETIMES ITS 6!!


I WANT YOU TO CHECK HIM OUT. I have also been influenced by Jennifer Holliday and Angela Winbush. Even though all of my influences are female, its where ive learned to sing. Although I do find it hard sometimes to find a key for my deeper voice. a high school chorus teacher told me I was a bass. Im def gonna have to let you hear me singing btw, it couldve been wrong because I do not think my voice is deep enough to be a bass.

Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...

Each one of us learns to sing in different ways. Facts are facts but they do not apply in the same way to every singer.

I don't believe in learning to sing through CDs but who knows? If you find them helpful, then enjoy!

thetruth said...

Wow that was powerful! Well since it was free, i was just gonna try it.

bassoprano said...

I'm looking forward to your next post! I'm a classically trained vocalist who's been listening everything from crooning to screaming all her life, and I've also been singing a "couple" of different music styles. Which in my opinion is a blessing and a lot of fun but a lot of people seem to think that it's unhealthy or just plain disgusting thing for an opera singer to do.

I've never understood that. Or that fact that people look down to me when I tell them that I listen to a lot of non-operatic vocalists and I'm interested in a lot of vocal techniques - and I definitely don't think that opera sound suits every musical style and is the only REAL way to sing. Or when non-classical people somethimes think opera singing ruins one's natural voice without any exeptions. BLAH. I think that being a bit 'open' to other musical and technical styles than your own can make your expression deeper and richer.

As I'm slowly trying to make my way in the professional opera world, I usually don't have the guts to tell Them (who are on the other side of the table) that I make half of my living by teaching people rock and heavy singing... and the other half by playing electric bass in a groove band. It's kinda funny (but usually frustrating and sad) that if they pick me to a project and hear about this afterwards, they either kick me out or start to look down to me ("Oh what would YOU know about the REAL music!") - and if they don't hear about it, they'd never guess.

I'm so glad that a lot of classical Big Names (like Netrebko) are 'confessing' that they listen to contemporary music and even sometimes admire certain artists. I once had a discussion with an opera singer, a rock singer and an ethnic style singer and they all agreed that it's the same mission, just a different package. I couldn't agree more.

Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...

Classical musicians who listen to only classical music cannot possibly be complete. How can you play Bernstein or Gerswhin or even Poulenc without having an idea of jazz? Every type of music we listen to enhances our musical vocabulary. Great music is great music and we should make a habit of exposing ourselves to all genres. So much to learn!

Frescamari said...

"I hate opera singing!" This exclamation is repeated often by my 10 year-old daughter. I so understand why she exclaims it because that is what I thought of classical singing when I was a child. She says she can't understand what they are saying, and for her young life, words in songs are very important to her.

I felt the same way about classical singing when I was growing up. I couldn't stand it. I did not understand why anyone would want to sing that way.

The singer I admired the most while growing up was Barbara Streisand. I would stand in my living room for hours in front of the mirrors trying to sound like her and do what she did. I was amazed at her ability to belt and hold notes for a very long time. I wondered and wondered and wondered and wondered at how it sounded like she was carrying her "chest" voice up higher and higher and higher and why my "voice" would only go to about Bflat and then flip over into an anemic and breathy, weak sound that dominated any of the mysterious vocal territory above. How is she doing that? How, how, how, HOW???

Nevertheless, I proceeded on to participate in musical theater productions and sang the lead roles of many musicals in high school and elsewhere. I was always received well, and often told that I could "sell a song."

Anyway, I arrived in New York, ready to pursue a career in theatre, but when I got to the auditions with my decently belty voice, and my small ability to "sell a song" I was overwhelmed by the skills of the other theatre artists around me. They were singing circles around me and I was amazed and astonished. There was much more power and resonance in their belting and they were able to do that thing I always wondered about --- carry the belt up really high in their ranges.

But the biggest stumbling block was a little question on the audition form that said, "Can you sing legit?" No. I couldn't. I had no idea how to do that.

I realized that I was going to need to improve my skills to belong to this new crowd. So, I decided to find a voice teacher.

My first teacher was a crossover singer, although I did not have familiarity of this term at the time. She could do it all. She could sing classically and she could sell a broadway tune.

After about two years, I found out that I loved studying voice. I began to hear the human voice in a completely different way, and it opened me up to the beauty of the voice as an instrument. My ear began to develop and I could hear things in those opera singers that I had not heard before, and it was absolutely thrilling. The way they made me feel when I heard them was something like what was described in the poem about Orpheus in the post above. I began to desire to do what they were doing, those classical singers. I wanted to be able to move and lift people in the way that these singers voices were able to move and lift me.

When I announced this to my teacher, she was surprised. "Really?!?" Her clientele was such that she was used to people wanting to sing in other styles.

Out came the 24 Italian songs. Out came old mimeographed copies of songs from a dusty file cabinet. But the vocal exercises and basic principles we had been training did not change. And thus began what was to become a lifelong journey.

I remember that first teacher often remarking that there was a way to sing a belt healthily in the upper range and that it had to do with resonance strategy. It was all a mystery to me, I had no idea what a "resonance strategy" was, but whatever it was I believed her because she could do it.

Even though my quest now is to sing in the style of operatic singing, and my love is for this level of the art of singing, and my belief is that it is the ultimate of what one can develop, and I believe that the resonance strategy for opera is the one that brings about the greatest depth, breath and scope that the human voice can achieve, I still long to do that high belting and plan to find out about it and master it before I die. I will look forward to reading more about this.