Friday, December 16, 2011
Kashu-do (歌手道): Primal Voice and Civilized Music
What we accept as our "natural voice" is the voice that has resulted from whatever unconscious habits we have developed through our environmental stimuli, whether copying our parents' voices or developing vocal habits relative to modes of vocal expression from our native cultures, early singing experiences or other experiences that gets us to use our voices in ways that influence the development of vocal skills (e.g. cheerleader squad, sports teams songs, singing along with Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, Steve Perry or Edith Piaf etc). Every vocal habit trains the balance of the vocal mechanism in specific ways that will ultimately influence what we identify as our "natural voice". The process of training should complete whatever has been learned through balancing the activity of all the muscles involved with the aim of developing flexibility and strength in vocal expression. As opera singers, we should be vocal "Olympians"-- be able to perform extraordinary vocal feats based on muscular activity that is consistent with the most natural functions of the vocal apparatus. Those natural functions are primal. Indeed, a listener responds to primal vocal sounds, whether a baby's cry or spontaneous full-bodied laughter. The acoustical intensity of such sounds evoke a natural response from other human beings who listen to it. A great opera singer develops a primal sound that is put to the service of the most highly evolved music ever created. That combination is irresistible and is indeed the secret to great operatic performance. A great musician without that primal sound does not touch the audience but may inspire the intellectual curiosity of some. A great primal voice without musical sophistication may still evoke something in the listener's being that goes beyond explanation, even when the voice is not perfectly balanced. That is why we often see singers on stage that we do not believe have refined techniques. Yet somehow they keep working. There is no logic to the effects of the primal voice. People simply respond to it from instinct. The goal of course is to develop such a primal sound in absolute balance like a lion's roar, a dog's bark, a cat's meow or indeed a baby's laughter or crying or cooing. When a vocal artist has such an instrument at his/her disposal and speaks the language of music fluently, s/he is able to access the listener on levels that border on the metaphysical. I believe that the success or failure of opera singers can be tracked in great part through measuring the extent to which their sound include acoustic qualities of primal modes of vocal expression.