Discussion of Nasality in Singing
I am posting some of my comments from a discussion on the Jussi Björling Yahoo Group that started as an assessment of Joseph Calleja’s Met performance in Lucia di Lammermoor. The topic swung to discussing nasality in singing. First are some of the comments that got things started, then my statements on the issue. I figured some would be interested.
D: he’s (Calleja) very impressive in the house with an ample, warm sound that is flavored by a nice vibrato and just a bit of nasality, two features of Jussi’s sound as well – if in a slightly distinctive way of his own.
T: I don’t hear Jussi’s nasality at all, but there is a tendency to push sharp at times. When I heard him in person, there wasn’t the slightest trace of nasality, none whatsoever.
E: I agree with you about Bjorling and nasality. To me, his voice was placed perfectly in the mask, which includes the nose but goes higher into the front of the forehead. Calleja’s voice seemed centered in the nose until he went for a high note.
I just want to pipe in here on this. I think “D” has just experienced the difficulty in expressing personal descriptions about the voice. He is absolutely correct, by the way. And so are the folks that oppose his statement.
Being a regular writer about vocal issues for going on 10 years now I have learned this lesson well. Not everyone defines the various terms the same way. So, two people can get in an argument even though they actually agree but are saying the same thing with different words.
Both Jussi and his Father described the importance of allowing the resonance to exist in the space behind the nose. Many refer to this as “nasal resonance”. I refrain from that term because it makes people think of nasality. And often
people try to fulfill the description, which makes them sound nasal.
First and foremost it should be stated that a tone should not sound nasal. But if the resonance doesn’t include the nasal passages it will sound flat and heavy. It also feels difficult to the singer and is at risk of losing color and sounding white or overly dark, depending on how the singer adjusts the resonators.
The problem of nasality is NOT an issue of the nasal passages, but an issue of constriction in the resonators or leaking of breath through the vibration of the vocal cords. If there is a complete, pure vibration and the resonating spaces (including the nasal passages) are open there will be no impression of nasality. Just good, complete resonance.
That is what we hear in Jussi. No nasality because he has a complete vibration of the vocal cords and the nasal passages are open, not constricted. It is impossible to create the weightlessness of the voice we hear in him without this resonance in the open head spaces that are the nasal passages.
So like I said, everybody is correct. The difference is “D” was talking about the cause of how the voice was working and everyone else was talking of the effect of the sound you hear. You don’t hear nasality in Jussi’s singing, but in
the functioning of his voice there does exist resonance in the nasal passages. “D” chose to call that nasality. I find that to be a dangerous term to use, but based on what he meant by it it isn’t wrong.
“E”, as a philosophy professor you should be familiar with this challenge of talking about the actual thing and not the words used to represent it. You and “D” have two different things being represented by the same word “nasality”. By your definition what he said would be wrong. By his definition he is absolutely correct.
Hope that clears things up some.