Friday, April 29, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Psychological Barriers For Dramatic Voices

Anyone who spends time with a singer who has a truly dramatic instrument knows that such singers are in general of a different type of energy.  Being so driven by objectivity in vocal pedagogy one would think I would be somewhat immune to the such trepidations.  In the end I am a singer like every other singer and prone to fall victim to all the psychological pitfalls and emotional trappings.  But why do singers with dramatic voices suffer from such crises? It is simple actually!

When a lyric singer sings (lyric here, as distinguishable from dramatic), there is a clear cultural expectation of what s/he will sound like.  The lyric tenor who sings Faust or the lyric soprano who sings Mimi, or the coloratura who sings Lakmé are all "normal", in the sense that such voices are recognizable as natural types.  Such singers will have sung the appropriate parts as early as high school choir and never truly stray from what seems an obvious path.

The dramatic soprano, by contrast, probably sang alto in choirs, and the dramatic tenor probably sang bass. The dramatic mezzo-soprano may have been told she had a bad voice or that she was always pushing.  Most of us, worldwide, are influenced by a vocal culture that finds anything that is beyond the norm to be suspect. Dramatic voices are not normal in a sense.  Culturally they are considered extraordinary, and the singer who is possessed of such an instrument must be willing to make extraordinary sound, with extraordinary strength to support the vibration of extraordinary vocal folds.

I have been feeling really well lately, experiencing a certain consistency in my voice. That is until I had a tired day and resorted to singing in a way that felt physically less demanding.  The eternal voices of teachers saying: "when it is right, it feels like nothing!" That may be true of lyric voices.  But every dramatic singer I have met speaks of the strength it requires in the body in order for the throat to feel balanced and unmolested.

The psychological barriers include:

1) Fear of physical effort in singing
2) Fear of creating a sound that is extraordinary (such sounds could not possibly come out of me!)
3) Fear of sounding and feeling out of control in the early phases of development
4) Identity crisis ( I am a tenor who sounds like a baritone.  I keep trying in subtle ways to take the baritone out of the sound)

To live on a daily basis with an extraordinary sound, it is necessary for one to find the extraordinary in himself/herself. Imagine if all opera singers spoke like Patrick Stewart or James Earl Jones, the two most admired voices in American culture!

Also, the more dramatic the nature of the voice, the more the possible sounds.  A large part of the lives of dramatic singers is identifying which of their vocal qualities is the appropriate one, the one that reveals the true essence of the singer?

This is also true of singers who make Fach changes.  Even when the change is successful, they often lament the loss of the former identity.

To all my dramatic voiced friends out there,  I encourage you to find the extraordinary in your spirit, such that you may consciously release the fullness of your exceptional voices.

© 04/29/2011

5 comments:

babydramatic said...

Thank you so much for this post!! I discovered my dramatic mezzo soprano voice at about age 57 after having been: a soprano in a glee club because I could sing loud high G, a 22 year old contralto in a G&S company (oh, did I mention I was smoking then?) a newly nonsmoking 26 year old light mezzo who was terrified to sing louder than a hum and who, being gay, was typecast in trouser roles. Then I stopped singing for over 20 years. When I started again, after a few years I went back to my original teacher who laughed and said "You're not Cherubino, you're Amneris!"

So much of what you say resonates with me: The need for extra energy to sing well, which my lighter voiced choir colleagues don't understand, being told I'm "pushing" or singing too loud when things feel right, finding it hard to believe that such sounds come out of me (although not skinny by any means, as dramatic singers go I'm a small person)etc.

I have been spending the past year struggling with the section of the Amneris/Radames duet with the two high B flats and yesterday for the first time something opened up and I sounded amazing (to myself). I hope whatever it is sticks. And I know this is what I should be singing, not the soprano line in the Halleluia Chorus!!

Jean-Ronald LaFond said...

Brava to you babydramatic! It is a wonderful feeling to be at home vocally.

elle_em_cee said...

Thank you so much for this post - details so well what I have been going through. Mis-typed as a full lyric voice, told I was "pushing" if I let the real sound out... spent years with little stamina because I was holding the voice back so much. A few changes, the voice comes out, and voila - stamina, huge sound, relaxation, and so much more success.

I used to think that if I couldn't sing a top C effortlessly, it was a problem with me. Fast forward to now - a little bit of oomph in the body and the note rings out clear, strong and free. No more of the strangled squeak and the accusation that I didn't have much of an easy top.

Why are dramatic voices so taboo, these days? Why is there such an attitude about people who actually are? "Oh, you think YOU are a dramatic soprano? We'll see..."

Generally, they DO see. Some people cling on to their belief that because I'm a relatively small person, that I cannot possibly have this voice for real. Sometimes they don't even hear what's there, they imagine it to be different because of what they see. I'm holding strong, though.

But it's so nice to feel that I'm allowed to sound the way I do, and that it is a cause for celebration rather than sweeping under the carpet and pretending to be a 'nice' lyric soprano.

Andy V said...

Thank you for this. Pretty much everything in this post and its comments ring true to what I've been going through. I'm a dramatic tenor and have been singing (at least trying to) for almost 5 years, alone, mostly in the shower and my car.

I started off way worse than most, being labeled 'tone deaf' by everyone from a very young age, but one person who was a great singer said anybody can learn and encouraged me. Even though I vocalized all the time and took a few dozen lessons in which my coach said my technique was better than many professional singers, my singing was still atrocious.

On top of all the things you already mentioned, I also had an extra fear. Even though on the surface I was thinking I was going to become great, in the back of my mind was a nagging voice saying that I'd never be able to get good or that I didn't actually have that epic voice I thought I had and was trying to find. The fear led me to sing almost everything flat and squeezed because my subconscious wasn't allowing me to give enough effort to be on pitch and free. On top of that, my whole family repeatedly said that I was wasting my time because I would never be good.

About a week ago, a whole bunch of things seemed to click into place and I had a huge burst of confidence. For the first time I truly liked the way I was sounding and the next day my grandfather (who always complained about my horrible shower singing) told me that it was amazing; somehow, overnight I was sounding very good.

After that, I had another burst of confidence and all of a sudden I found myself singing Kelly Clarkson almost effortlessly. Since then, it's like everything else in my life has gotten brighter and I feel waves of euphoria I have never had before when I sing now.

Andy V said...

Thank you for this. Pretty much everything in this post and its comments ring true to what I've been going through. I'm a dramatic tenor and have been singing (at least trying to) for almost 5 years, alone, mostly in the shower and my car.

I started off way worse than most, being labeled 'tone deaf' by everyone from a very young age, but one person who was a great singer said anybody can learn and encouraged me. Even though I vocalized all the time and took a few dozen lessons in which my coach said my technique was better than many professional singers, my singing was still atrocious.

On top of all the things you already mentioned, I also had an extra fear. Even though on the surface I was thinking I was going to become great, in the back of my mind was a nagging voice saying that I'd never be able to get good or that I didn't actually have that epic voice I thought I had and was trying to find. The fear led me to sing almost everything flat and squeezed because my subconscious wasn't allowing me to give enough effort to be on pitch and free. On top of that, my whole family repeatedly said that I was wasting my time because I would never be good.

About a week ago, a whole bunch of things seemed to click into place and I had a huge burst of confidence. For the first time I truly liked the way I was sounding and the next day my grandfather (who always complained about my horrible shower singing) told me that it was amazing; somehow, overnight I was sounding very good.

After that, I had another burst of confidence and all of a sudden I found myself singing Kelly Clarkson almost effortlessly. Since then, it's like everything else in my life has gotten brighter and I feel waves of euphoria I have never had before when I sing now.