Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Potential Occlusion: Efficiency With All Consonants

As many of you know, occlusion plays a big part in my approach to training the voice.  The back pressure produced by voiced occlusives, like liptrills and voiced fricatives like [v], [z], voiced th, etc, create an inertial load above the glottis, which simplistically put, creates the conditions for a better balance of pressure/flow. The occlusives prevent and/or correct excessive medial pressure by assuring adequate trans-glottal flow and thereby encouraging continuous diaphragmatic rise.  These are the basic condictions needed for adequate breath support. The rest has to do with management of the the ribcage to prevent excessive pressure and engagement of the core musculature to prevent diaphragmatic collapse in the event of higher sub-glottic pressure conditions.

The benefits of occlusion can and should go beyond voiced occlusives.  In my teaching and singing I have observed that the proper production of consonants will have a beneficial effect on the succeeding vowel.  This reminds me of an advice given to me by the late, great coach, Glenn Parker: "The strength of the consonants should be relative to the strength of the tone".  This was always helpful.  This concept has become clearer in my mind through my work with occlusives.

I observe two tendencies among students: 1) the tendency to overpressurize and explode consonants in the name of diction and 2) the tendency to avoid the natural pressure of consonants in fear that the pressure will cause unwanted tension.  Both are ill-advised.  There is a middle ground, which provides clear articulation of the consonants, properly pressurized with respect to the support needs of the succeding vowel.  The overpressurizing of consonants will create tension in the following vowel because the tone will be out of balanced. Hence the diction itself is lost since good diction is not only a matter of consonants but also (if not primarily) a matter of excellent tone production.  In the case of underpressurizing the consonants (i.e. avoiding them), the following tone will have to be adjusted to become viable.  This will require extra work from the support system and an uncessary readjustment from the glottis for each consonant and its succeding vowel.  The voice will feel very insecure from note to note and a true legato will be lost.  Indeed the legato effect is created not by continual flow but by a continual pressure/flow balance, which must be maintained in the production of consonants as well.

I used to follow the model of some of my past teachers who advocated avoiding consonants in the high range particularly for women.  There is a practical aspect to ths advice.  Most singers do not have a glottal posture in the high range that would make consonants easy to articulate.  A good consonants requires pressure/flow balance and the inablility to sing easy consonants in the high range is a sign of pressed phonation to a degree.  Whe the student has not yet accomplished a balanced fold posture in the high range, avoiding consonants can provide an easier result at the top, but that should be a short term measure.  The top voice should be developed to produce consonants easily.  Indeed consonants are not necessarily limited by formant resonance like vowels are.  It fascinated me when I was in school that the singer with the best diction was a coloratura voice teacher, given the fact that she was modifying vowels most of the time by necessity.  Her top voice was as fully developed (no flute voice production in her top) as her middle. She sang strong, flowing consonants even when vowels had to be modified.  When consonants are well-produced, the modified vowel is understood as the desired vowel in context.  Indeed her fine diction was as much a product of her consonants as it was of her balanced phonation on vowels. And in truth, they are not mutually exclusive. The point I hope to make here is that a balanced tone on a vowel in fact depends on the balanced consonant that precedes

© 1/18/2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): En Liten Vinterresa i Stockholm (A little Winterreise in Stockholm)

When I travel, I often find it hard to sleep because when I am finally in bed at night I think about the blog and the book and feel I should use that time to write. To remedy the situation I need a room that has no windows.  To that end, I was happy to find a very reasonable hotel in Stockholm with several windowless rooms. I attempted to complete a technical blog post last night but the room accomplished its purpose and I fell asleep.  Often when I try too hard to write, the words do not flow. I have learned to abandon such posts. They should not be forced.  I write in a stream of consciousness and find organization of sorts in that experience.  Indeed so is life! Today's experience, on the intersection of Katarinavägen and Fjällgatan where I teach, encapsulated the fluid nature of life intersecting the spontaneous inspirations of art which should instruct the manner by which we approach attaining our desires, whether taking an unexpected detour on the way to a favorite restaurant or a pleasurable, spiritually enriching walk on the way to work that defies the passage of time, for an adventure is not defined by the sum of the important landmarks covered but rather what happens between them.  I still ended up at work for six hours in the studio at Fjällgatan but my unexpected detour taught me far more about life and may have prepared me for the wonderful singers who needed not just an analysis of vocal faults but rather a little timelessness through their adventure in the mysterious world of singing.

It was just before 12:30 when I emerged from Slussen T-banna (Metro) station into the main square leading to Katarinavägen where I would take the number 3 bus one stop just past the intersection of Katarinavägen and Fjällgatan (two visits ago I had found a set of keys at this busstop which ended up belonging to a Swedish author who has become a friend--Life is not boring)!  On the way the bus passed the clearing looking over Stockholm's bay.  The thick drapery of snow from an endless celestial source made a disappearing act of the amusemnt park on Djurgarden on the right.  In fact there was nothing on the horizon but an unfathomable curtain of interspersing grey mist and white precipitation. The glorious sun-bathed dream of the bay that greeted me on my first visit to Stockholm last summer seemed just that--a dream!

I got off the bus and met the multi-layered blanket of heavy snow.  It did not feel very cold and the weight of the heavy flakes felt curiously pleasurable.  I crossed Katarinavägen toward the stairs that lead to Fjällgatan. The large expansive street was deserted after my bus had left.  There was nothing between the stairs and me except eternal grey-white sheets of precipitation and a solitary black figure held up by a skinny cane, that from a distance appeared as fragile against the slumped shoulders as the figure in the precarious surroundings of this snowbound, slippery slope.  As I reached for my Android G2 to capture the poetic paradox of technicolor greyscale, I was no longer in Stockholm, nor was I myself.  For some reason totally unknown to me I felt as if I shared the desolate plight of this apparent elderly, whether because of a close connection with the Schubert song cycle, Winterreise, that I have sung often or some unexplained empathy for this stranger, I decided to approach my vision of fragility.  I stayed close behind as the figure grasped the staircase handle.  Despite the fragile bearing and the breakable stick my doppelgänger walked the steps effortlessly.  Still fearing an accidental slip I remain directly behind in case I had to prevent a fall. A middle-aged couple waited at the top of the stairs and allowed the elderly figure to finish her climb before taking the stairs downward.




When my alter-ego reached the top of the stairs (I was one step behind) there was a hesitation before the dangerously slippery barrier of snow between the uncertainty of the uneven sidewalk and the fresh powder covering the middle of Fjällgatan.  This was my cue! "Ska jag hjälpa dig?" I offered in uncertain Swedish, convinced that my offer would go un-understood due to poor pronunciation.  To my surprise, the voice of a woman answered my offer with a smile: "hittade en ängel!" She mused.  I was glad to play the angel if that is what she needed.  Her eyes glittered through the layer of snow-filled air between us and seemed sunken deeply into her skull, possibly by the pressure of sights experience over what must be at least eighty years of existence on this plane.  The many lines that chiseled her noble countenance seemed interspersed with bands of glowing light and her penetrating glance revealed nothing other than an overwhelming love and humanity that made me realized that she, not I, was the angel of the day.  Not a hint of the remorse often seen in the face of some elderly for  having lived through unwanted experiences and having passed up opportunities.  This was a picture of life at its most vibrant in a form that only appeared fragile to my less experienced eyes, too far forward in my skull to see the full panorama of this life.  "Where are you going?" I understood her meaning although I cannot recall her choice of words. "Var du går!" I offered to accompany her on her way. "Då ska vi gå hand i hand!" She precised with a voice more charmingly inviting than it was commanding.

 For the five minutes it took to walk the hundred meters of snow-covered Fjällgatan to her front door, time seemed to have stood still. I only realized that only five minutes had passed when I checked my G2 to verify I was not late to my next lesson. Between the time our gloved hands clasped and I checked the time, I forgot the sknow was beneath our feet.  I passed Herman's restaurant on the left without knowing it--Its summer veranda was the setting of my first view of the bay--I passed the studio on the right without noticing.  We spoke about where I was born and about the weather.  She learned that I lived in Berlin and ventured a few phrases in a German made more melodic by her Swedish lilt.  We quickly returned to Swedish and somehow in a timeless, spaceless few minutes we developed a bond  that transcended friendship and yet we did not exchange our names.  In this existence we remain strangers, but when I left her at her door and waited until she was safely in, she turned a glance that saw through the fibers of the fabric of my life.  She said words of thanks but I felt more thankful for having been led by her through this little detour into a heretofore undiscovered dimension of my existence.  I left her gaze filled with wonder and optimism.

Between her door and the studio my black coat became a blanket of pure white and my mind was as blank as the untarnished powder beneath my feet. The warmth of the studio greeted me with a stark reality and the white blanket of snow melted from my black coat like the sunllight disappearing in Stockholm's early afternoon sky. Over a hot cup of black current tea I relived my Winter's Journey, now more a dream than reality.  Still, that dream colored the rest of my teaching day and I was able to find a connection with each of my students that was as playful as it was profoundly serious.  At one instant, I sat with one of my students and we spoke about the unpredictability of our paths--that an objective is usually achieved through unexpected turns-- Indeed the answers to our most mysterious questions are found not through the roads we think we chart for ourselves but rather through the many inexplicable moments we think happen to us by accident.  I could have walked quickly by the old woman and never engage her, but that was not the purpose of the day. Like the many other  unforgettable experiences I have had in this magical city called Stockholm, this experience too belongs to timelessness.  It is as mysterious as poetry and just as substantial.  We can either discount the magical signposts in our lives as the product of our overactive imaginations or as the defining experiences that provide the key to our ultimate purpose.  How we see the world and our experiences is a matter of choice!

copyright 01.07.2011