Michael, that was an excellent discussion on how to sing. TOO MANY singers strive for a certain sound, whether it is operatic or pop. And in striving to create a sound, they destroy the ability to actually communicate meaning.

The only addition I would make is some voices are simply not suited to all types of music, even when using balanced function. Rosa Ponselle, for example, never had a “child’s voice” but from her young age a voice that was quite adult. She never studied singing, but could do what she did naturally. It suited opera more than any other type of music (and her incredible trill on any volume and for any length of time was a miracle even to other opera singers). She did record other types of music, and they were beautifully sung. But no matter what she sang, she didn’t sound “modern.”
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Thanks for your comments, Bea. I agree with what you are saying, but I feel you are complicating the situation compared to what I am trying to say. Expressing with the voice is simpler than trying to make a particular kind of sound. And because it is simpler, we should be able to express in different styles with balanced function. This doesn’t mean it will be equally effective in every style. But we should be able to use the voice naturally independent of style.

You bring up Rosa Ponselle, and I would think of her as a good example of a natural singer. This means, to me, someone whose vocal function is well balanced naturally. Before training. She sounded mature as a teen. But it was a natural use of the voice. Unlike the modern connotations of child “opera” singers like Charlotte Church and Jackie Evancho. Actually a new one pops up each year. These kids are just being taught to imitate a mature sound. It is not a legitimate use of the voice as an instrument.

But, yes, the industry can put pressure on singers to sound like an expected ideal. This happens all over the operatic world as well. And singers need to be more knowledgeable to understand that the “industry” doesn’t care about the health of their instrument. That is the responsibility of the singer. If they buy into doing what is expected of them without taking care of their voice they will burn up quickly.

I said before that I feel that your perspective is more complicated than what I am saying. (I don’t mean that in an accusatory sense. I just mean I want to keep things simple so people can understand) What I mean is the singer doesn’t have to use all that they are capable of. Just because a sports car is ideally suited to going 100+ mph doesn’t mean it has to drive that fast all of the time. Now, I concede that to keep the car well-functioning it is best not to only drive it below its ideal level all of the time either. That is why we need to exercise the voice through its full potential consistently. But the music we are performing should determine the expression and the intensity in performance.

Your comments about Jussi Bjorling actually leave out the example of his “Erik Odde” recordings. These were recordings he made with a dance band early in his career under the stage name “Erik Odde” to make some extra money. He had to use his voice much more simply and less intensely for the popular music of the time. In terms of degree, contrary to what you said, it would compare to what could be used for modern singing or musicals. He always emphasized the importance of using the voice in a completely natural way. Now, would he have a feel for the music we have now? That is a completely different question.

I agree that not all voices can do all styles, even with good function. I am not saying that people can. I’m saying that it just makes it possible. Not necessarily doable. People can only sing music for which they have a feel for. If you don’t feel a certain type of music it is unlikely that you will be able to express it convincingly.

I have said many times that performance is made up of more than function. But function is what makes performance possible. Because with poor function the voice will not be responsive to fulfill the intentions of the singer. And over time poor function will cause a voice to deteriorate.

I feel that a singer who has established the foundation of a well-functioning instrument can add the occasional “effect” to more-completely express their style. But the problem for many is their whole manner of using their voice is based on the “effects” of the style so they have no foundation. And again the voice breaks down.

I think you mis-interpreted something I said along the way, because I did not intend to imply that singers should, or needed to, sing many different styles or else they are limited. They should sing what they feel drawn to and able to express. I did say that if they are imitating a sound of a style they are limiting their voice. Singers can stick to one style and not be limiting themselves. The limitation comes from not using the voice naturally. When they limit themselves by imitating the sound of a style they limit themselves expressively, even in that style. But a singer doesn’t need to sing many styles to prove that they are not limited.

I make a distinction between speaking and talking. Speaking is using the voice in a complete, balanced and natural manner. Talking is the incomplete, habitual manner we tend to use the voice. If we are “speaking” in a good way, there should be little variation when we transition to singing other than intensity and continuous vibration.

The problems stem from people taking that description and trying to sing from a foundation of talking. That creates a result that is both functionally and esthetically compromised. And you are correct that this can never translate into classical singing.

(This is the problem I find with SLS – Speech Level Singing – and its followers. They treat talking as if it is good speaking. From this simple mis-interpretation everything gets messed up. I feel it should be called TLS – Talking Level Singing)

This is much like problems found in a Logic class. Something may be true when going one direction, but if we reverse the equation it is not necessarily true. Singing operatically requires an intensity level not everyone is capable of. This intensity is what causes the type of resonance and ring that we identify as operatic singing. Not by the artificial, imitative swallowed sound that many “opera” singers make in an attempt to sound like an opera singer.

But just as in the sports car analogy of earlier, a voice that is capable of operatic intensity is not bound to that level of singing all of the time. If they are then they have limited themselves to it. They don’t speak with that intensity. It all depends on how much energy is brought to the singing. We can sing in a balanced manner with the energy of speaking. We can even sing in a balanced manner with the energy of cooing, like a baby, and produce a very intimate quality appropriate for ballad singing with a mic.

What I want people to recognize is that it is possible to do what they want. But they also have to understand what the voice is capable of doing without injury. If what they want to do is also injurious to the voice they will have problems. So better to avoid them before they happen than after. We can’t afford to be like the guitar player who plays so aggressively that they destroy the instrument in a couple performances. We can’t buy a new voice. And often when the voice gets damaged it can be healed, but it usually is not able to return to complete health.

I also want to emphasize that even with the pressure of the industry, healthy singing should make you a superior singer, not inferior, to the standard. If it doesn’t then something is not being correctly applied. But it is a certainty that you cannot sing non-classical styles with an imitative classical “technique”. That is just bad singing. Period.

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