Monday, January 30, 2012

Kashu-do (歌手道): What you do in the studio is not enough for the stage

A very dear friend of mine is one of the most positive and encouraging people I know.  I am lucky!  This excellent soprano friend has a way of seeing the good in what I do.  She is a good balancing element in my life because I tend to be more aware of the faults in my work.  I am generally positive, but as I said before I am a practical idealist, meaning that I only believe that practical goals are attainable through ideal preparation.

But after my latest coaching I understand why I am so tough on myself.  It must be impeccable in the studio because it will always be a little less good at the coaching and probably a little less so on stage.  In youth, before we really know what true vocal strength is, we revel in the ability to bring out results from sheer determination.  While there is virtue in determination, it should accompany skill not substitute it.

In balance, I celebrate my growth over the last year and coldly assess that there is still important work to be done before I can trust my voice onstage to do what I expect it to do, whether on a good day or a less good day.  This reminds me of something a bad teacher said to me once: "It is not reliable unless you can produce it on your worst day!" Just because he had practically no people skills, it does not mean he did not have valuable things to say.  After all I am here repeating his pronouncements some fifteen years later.

20120127Hai ben ragione.mp3

This is a clip of the last coaching. It is pretty good, but some of the baritone history is still noticeable in the low range.  My voice has a natural baritone element but it is important to distinguish when the baritone color is natural and when it is a slight looseness from a heavy production. 

I am very encouraged by my progress, but there is better! I did not travel this path only to get part of the way!

© 01/30/2012

4 comments:

Troy said...

~~~

You approached this aria like Giacomini would sing it. The sound was too big and overly produced. Sorry, if that sounded disparaging. Now, I am no master singer myself by any means but I have heard your recordings from the beginning of your baritone-to-tenor transition, and my amateur ears are just crying out for me to just come out and state what I think could be a problem in the process. Your mindset is still stuck on the "open throat = big sound" thinking gear. I know you are a very learned man and have tons of performing/teaching experience over me and all, but we are all still created the same and are all plagued by the same kinds of problems. And right now, I am saying that yours could probably be your subconscious perceptions and patterns are affecting your voice production and are keeping you from completely achieving your goal. So just to keep this comment short, positive and goal-oriented: I would imagine your voice will function better if you pare down its size and shoot more for the silver lining. In other words, less girth and more height.

There I've said my piece. My ears are happy now.

Troy

~~~

Jean-Ronald LaFond said...

Troy,
If I were unbalanced, I could take such a comment to be insulting, particularly from someone who calls himself an amateur. But I agree with what you say in terms of the final result. Yes there is not yet enough brilliance in the voice and by my own admission it is not up to snuff. That was the point of the post. I have gotten better results in the studio. So yes you are right, I could use more brilliance.

What I do not agree with you on are:

1) That Giacomini over-produced the sound. In his later years yes, but earlier on, no. His live version of this aria is the best to be found anywhere:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtHBG6IlqHs

2) Some think that the only way to get tenor brilliance is to reduce the space. Not correct. It only takes away the low overtones so that the high ones are featured. Quite unbalanced and leads to a short term result. The perception that the space is "hollow" comes from the folds not meeting completely, of which I am sometimes guilty here.

The challenge is to achieve appropriate stretch of the vocal folds without losing the natural weight/space of the voice. If it was just about reducing one side to get the other, it would be simple and more dramatic voices would have achieved it.

It is a slow process and takes time. I teach enough tenors who achieve that brilliance without losing depth. It is worth the wait.

Those who began their tenor careers from the thin side cannot imagine how difficult it is to achieve a lean sound without resorting to pressing.

Time will be the judge!

Your comment is not disparaging, but it betrays a simplistic view of the workings of the voice that is too often impressed upon more dramatic voices. "Why don't you just lighten up?" Do you really think that after thousands of hours of teaching, including a bunch of working professionals that I do not have an idea of what a balanced sound is at the end.

I share these clips here not to show a final product but to show the process of achieving a final product while considering all the potential problem issues. And I do not do this without feedback from professionals. The slow road yields lasting results.

Thank you for comment.

Troy said...

~~~

JRL, I never meant to imply that you lack knowledge on what a balanced sound is. We both know that that is quite the contrary. But we both understand as well that all this academic knowledge does not really translate much performance-wise. Especially when we are diagnosing our own performance in real-time.

So in a moment of weakness, I've managed to put my foot in my mouth and offered my (often unsolicited) thoughts on the matter, and in my usual brash and tactless way.

In my last post, I was inviting you (I was hoping that was the impression my wording imparted) to analyze/reflect on your habits of thinking/listening/perceiving or patterns of thought/subconscious mind (I don't know what else to describe these. The artistic brain?) because I think that that is what kicks in during vocal production/performance, and not our conscious academic knowledge of what should and should not be. So my idea is if something is not working properly in our voice, then there is probably something habits and thinking patterns/perceptions that is preventing us from doing so.

Also, I was not even trying to suggest to you to lighten up the voice to solve the heaviness/high-register challenge. What I was suggesting was that paring down the girth and focusing on the height might help toward that goal. I do not even mean to suggest that that is the end-all be-all solution to the problem either.

In other words, I guess what I was trying to say was to look into your old singing habits, and to reduce the volume while keeping the intensity of the singing.

When I listen to the recording, the voice production gives me the impression of a kite meeting up with a sudden strong gust of wind. I don't know, maybe it is just this recording, maybe you are singing much better these days. Well, at least for this recording, that is the impression I get. I hear/feel a slightly smaller-sized voice than what the production in that recording was trying to imply. Is this what you call rapport? Maybe I am just imagining things.

So finally, I hope you do not take any of these things the wrong way. I implore you to please read into the ideas I was trying to raise and not the way I worded things, because God knows I do not know my way around words and verbiage.

And of course, if you must know, I am one of those people who always question the validity of their statements anyway. So if you find any of these disagreeable, please take it with a grain of salt, and proceed as you see fit.

Troy

~~~

Jean-Ronald LaFond said...

Troy, I published your comment because I think the conversation is worth having. I do not find your comment mean-spirited or ill-tempered. As I said before I agree with what you said in terms of a final product.

What I have sought to share here is that it is a process and that the obvious is not always as obvious as it seems.

What I find a little unreasonable is that you assume you understand my mental process or that I favor a darker sound as per my baritone past.

I do not subscribe to a one-sided approach such as "paring down the girth and focusing on the height". The mechanism for brilliance (perceived as height) is not dependent "necessarily" on reduced girth but rather on appropriate closure which "can be hindered" by too much girth but not by appropriate girth. A balance is achieved by the two "apparently" opposite elements maintaining their integrity. "Appropriate girth" is compatible with "appropriate" brilliance, i.e. fold depth vs. fold closure.

Finally, the post was precisely about how artistry can derail a fragile vocal balance as in my performance (which has both its strengths and weaknesses when examined in a continuum of gradual progress). In my opinion, if the artistic brain must negatively effect the mechanical balance, it is a sign that the mechanical efficiency has not been trained adequately (again the point of the post).

Indeed I make more consistently balanced sounds in the studio.

I also think that it is possible that your aesthetics of a tenor sound does not make room for more robust voices. I think it is worth while listening to tenors like Vinay, Melchior, Peter Hofmann for comparisons. James King and Del Monaco are among my favorites at their best. But the nature of my voice is probably closer to Vinay or Galouzine as many have told me.
whereas lyric tenors can get away with a squeezed sound in the name of height, more robust voices cannot do that and ever hope to achieve a top. I am working very hard on achieving "height" but not at the expense of "appropriate" girth to use your words.

In this process I have learned to sing a high C# with relative consistency in warm-ups and I have developed enough stamina to sing through Aida twice without fatiguing. I believe the cake (the structure) has been built. I am working on the "icing" if you will. Refinement must be achieved with the structure in mind not at its expense.

JRL