I have been having contradictions about “voice placement“, some encouraging forward placement during singing, while others even stating that there is nothing like placement, either forward or ‘backward‘.
Plus, I have been trying to train my soprano and tenor singers (choral) on how they should use their voices accurately (especially the vibrato), but I am afraid of giving them wrong guidance. I dont know how you could help me in this. Thanks, sir, in anticipation.
Thanks for your question. I feel it is very important to accurately understand how the voice works and so then be able to understand the sensations that go along with it.
The concept of voice placement can be difficult to make sense of. Partly because there are so many differing opinions, but mostly because it is actually an illusion.
As always when we talk about concepts we must first define what we mean by the term. Otherwise we will increase the confusion because we aren’t necessarily talking about the same thing.
So I think in general, the term voice placement refers to the location of the sensations of tone. When we sing we tend to feel sensations from the vibrations of tone. Where we feel these tonal sensations we tend to call the “placement” of the voice. Although for me that is a misnomer because the voice itself can’t be placed anywhere other than in the neck. (voice to me is the actual vocal mechanism, the larynx) What people really mean is the placement of the tone.
Unfortunately this is where opinions start to come into the situation. Much of these opinions are based on what they imagine when listening to another singer. Other times these opinions are based on what they feel when they think they sound better. And still other opinions are based on what they have read or been told by someone else. They just adopted someone else’s opinion.
Some say placement should be forward and some say it should be back. Within the “forward placement” advocates there are some that say it should be forward in the mouth and others that say it should be forward in the mask, or the face.
Then with the back placement some say it should be “down and back” like a yawn while others say it should be up and back in the head.
Then there are others still who advocate no placement at all. What are we to think and where are we going to get the “right” answer.
Well, this is where we need to learn to be logical and think for ourselves. We all tend to look to someone else for the right answer. I’m saying learn to think logically and find your own answer. Ultimately the answer needs to make sense to you and even more important, it needs to make sense in your body.
The opinions of others will never make sense in your body. Only when you figure out the reality of your voice will things make sense both conceptually and physically.
So where do we start? I like to start by forgetting about the outcome for a bit and look at what is actually there. We have done part of this by defining what we are talking about. What is voice placement? It is the sensation of location of tone.
Next we need to ask, “can I control placement?” Or in other words is placement something we “do”? To get the answers to these questions we need to do some thinking. Real thinking.
As humans we tend not to want to actually think. We just want someone to give us the answer. But just receiving the answer doesn’t help us to understand anything better than we did. We need to mentally go into the question and then experiment vocally to see what is true.
If we can look at the situation logically we will see that “tone placement” is a result of our tone production. Tone is produced by the reverberation of the air inside the vocal tract in sympathy with the vibration of the vocal folds. This is actually energy radiating through the air inside the throat, mouth and nasal passages.
When this energy strikes the inner surfaces of the mouth, throat and skull we sense these locations. If the energy congregates more in a certain area the sensation is stronger and we notice that location and call it voice placement.
Throughout history people have observed that when the voice feels free and functionally balanced the sensations of tonal placement are in certain areas. And they have also observed that when the voice feels heavy and difficult there are other locations they sense the placement of the voice.
Through these observations we start to get concepts of desirable and undesirable locations of placement. And now this is where the problems start. Because once we notice locations of placement when the production feels good, we naturally want to recreate that. And then we tell others that they should have that placement as well.
Or even more common the less experienced singer admires the tone of the good singer and imagines a location that it sounds like the tone is placed or they find out what their sensations of placement are through a master class or interview. Then they try to emulate that by “placing” their tone in the same location, thinking it will result in the same desirable quality.
But unfortunately it rarely, if ever, does. Why is this?
The big reason it rarely results in a desirable quality is because placement is a result of our tone production, not a cause. This means that we can’t accurately create it without creating the correct cause.
And the cause is proper function. When the voice is properly functioning there are slight amounts of placement in many, if not all, of the places mentioned. It is a feeling of “all over” placement. If we try to place the tone in any one area, forward for instance, what we are actually doing is restricting the natural expanding of the tone and confining it into that area.
This is done through manipulating the throat with constriction. And as anyone who has been reading my blog will know, constriction of the throat is absolutely undesirable.
So the more correct question is not “where should my tone be placed?” It is “how can I get my voice functioning well?”
If the voice is functioning completely and all the components are working together and balancing each-other correctly, then there will be some sensations of placement. Because the tone is free to reflect and pass through the various chambers of the head and there are certain areas that we have sensation. This is where we will feel some sense of placement.
But we must not try to place the tone in these areas. They are a result, not a cause. These sensations are like a confirmation that our system is working well. We can’t make the system work well just by creating these sensations, because we are capable of imitation. And that is all this would be.
So rather than imitating the placement of a well-functioning voice, we should imitate the actual function of that voice in our instrument. And that is discussed through all of the posts of my blog.
Regarding your second question, I’m not sure either since I don’t know how you are guiding them. It is good just to talk about using the voice healthy. Even if you aren’t sure of the details. General awareness can do a lot. One thing, since you mention it, is vibrato is also a symptom, much like placement. It is not something we try to make or improve.
If we try to directly change it we will create new interferences that will be unhealthy. The condition of the vibrato is a sign of the condition of the voice and the function. It will change relative to those things. It should not be changed by trying to directly change it.
I hope that helps. Thanks for reading.
Please comment below.
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Thanks, Sarah. Glad you liked it!
Wonderful! Love this article, helped a lot. Thank you.
This is one of the best articles i have found on vocal placement.
All of your blog posts are spot on.
it’s good to never force the voice into place.
I have been experimenting with placement for about a year and where my voice naturally goes when i am singing properly.
its been a challenge.
You’re welcome and thanks for the feedback. This is a good question because I think people may not realize that absolutely, placement changes depending on condition just as much as it changes depending on functional coordination (what you do).
Placement falls into the same category as vibrato in that it is a symptom that tells us how effective our condition and coordination is. It happens as a result of these. The problem comes when we try to make it happen a certain way.
This is easy to do if we have the thought that placement should be a particular way. Then we try to make that result directly, which usually ends up as a constriction.
So like I said in the post, we should keep our focus on how we are coordinating the body to be an instrument. Then we can observe and notice if we experience a sense of placement.
If the condition is relatively healthy we should get the result we expect if we set up and coordinate the instrument effectively.
In general, like I said in the post, placement shouldn’t feel confined to a spot but more of a general area. Like the whole upper front quadrant of the head.
Hope that helps.
Thank you so much for this information! It was exactly what i needed! My only question is, is it possible for your placement to be at a slightly different spot depending on your vocal condition? or does it always hit that same spot if you are completely warmed up?
Thanks for joining in, Matthew. That’s right. The registration is what we need to be focused on. If done correctly that will create the sense of placement as a result.
I completely agree. I do believe that it is not a matter or placement; rather, a matter of “Registration”. For me being a tenor, I don’t place my voice anywhere, but I do use a different registration as is needed. But that’s just me.
Beatrice, thank you very much for some additional thoughts on this, it is greately appreciated and points you make are very important and among the many things here on the blog which will be re-read from my side over and over again. I am much more aware of some of the things you write now than I was before, maybe because I could experience it for a while. It turned out well for me, because I managed to get into a group of people who sing well after this, something I am really looking forward to. And I started to think about my future music education, singing possibilities, opportunities and what I could do with it in a much more different way.
Dinko, you are most correct in saying there is a great difference in understanding the concepts discussed in this blog, putting them into practice, learning to make them a habit, and then using them to form a career (even an amateur career). There is a huge difference in learning to sing with balanced function and applying that to repertoire. Things don’t always jump from one part of vocal development to the other like walking up a flight of stairs.
And just because you have great balanced function doesn’t mean you will be instantly able to do all the things the music requires. One still has to learn to sing even scales, trills, learn control of the volume of the voice, have musical dynamics, learn to sing a phrase and shape a recitative. There are tons of musical things that must be learned. Proper balanced function makes learning those things easier, but it doesn’t of itself instantly give those skills. The key is to keep balanced function no matter what demands the music makes.
Of course, this blog deals more with the basics of function and less with the musical demands put on the voice by the music. And since that is its focus, it will not of itself help you know exactly what to do.
The singers you have described are NOT finishing their education. That is where singers get it wrong. Just because they have finished university and have a degree, or have learned privately how to sing well enough, even with balanced function, they are not “finished their education.” They have finished the introduction to their singing education.
You mentioned these singers being forced or pushed to do certain things, wrong things, to produce a result sought out by the managements and directors. That is where a singer must really develop thick skin and be completely self determined. 99% of those people are not singers and never were. They have never studied singing at all. They KNOW NOTHING about it. But they know theatre and what they think will work. One must listen to what result they are seeking, but figure out how to do it using your balanced function and correct singing technique. That is the singer’s responsibility. They are the guardians of their voice and talent. It is total stupidity to just let powerful directors like that destroy your voice just so you can get ahead with their little singing group.
To many young singers fall for that, and suffer very terrible set-backs in starting a career. Some have no career possibilities at all because the damage is unrepairable.
A singer must learn to SAY NO, just as much as they must learn correct function. Singing too much, the wrong music, the wrong fach, or in the wrong way just to suit the prejudices of other people is wrong and will destroy you.
I have heard so many younger singers who were reduced to tears because of the pressures very ill-adviced directors and incompetent conductors have inflicted upon them. But the fear is always the same: If I don’t sing what they ask me to sing, I will not get into the profession. The truth is, if you sing like they ask you to sing you have no hope of getting into the profession. That is where a singer must stand their ground. You will achieve the dramatic affect they are seeking, but YOU WILL DO IT YOUR WAY, in the way that works for your voice. It is true such singers may get a reputation of being “difficult,” but they are also the ones that move ahead in their careers. You have to be somewhat selfish. You must think of only yourself, for believe me, no one else will, not even your own agent at times.
One of the reasons these young singers get trapped into this situation is they are not really capable of knowing what is required to sing a real opera. They end up relying on the ideas of those in charge. Sometimes you luck out, and you have a conductor who actually does understand the voice and can really push you forward. However, that is very rare.
The reason these young singers are so vulerable is they really don’t know anything at all. They have studied singing at university, they have learned a few arias, they know a few operas, sort of (but not really all that thoroughly), they have no experience singing at much of anything other than in church or in a finals singing program to get their degree. They have never sang with an orchestra, but only piano, and usually with accompanists who are just as green (uneducated and inexperienced) as they are. Some are lucky to work in an operatic chorus from time to time, but they really don’t learn how to sing there. They may hear great soloists from time to time as well, but usually don’t get close enough to actually know what they are doing or how they are singing.
They basically graduate with no understanding of the voice at all. They simply took a few lessons, sort of sound like opera singers, and can sing a few arias. Now they feel they are ready to conquer the world. Reality hits them when they discover in a real setting their voices are too small to be heard. So, the company, so as not to force their singing, uses mikes. As a result, they get fixated on singing with a mike, on expecting that sound to be there for them, and lose touch with their real sound and how to make it grow.
It is their lack of understanding that has trapped them. And the saddest thing of all, they have a degree which proves to the world they are supposed to actually be fully qualified to teach what they simple at that point can’t even do.
With that level of confidence, is it any wonder they allow themselves to be abused in the way they are?
My teacher never allowed me to sing unprepared for anything. And she taught me how to say NO, and stick to my guns without ruining my reputation. That is something NO ONE learns from a university. No one. And that is why you see so many young singers pay such a heavy price. They allow themselves to be bullied into doing what someone wants, even though it is about the most unhealthy thing possible.
A singer must stick to doing what is right, and not allow themselves to be swayed, especially by fear of not getting a career. There are no guarantees about careers. But it is certain do what ruins your voice, no matter what managements you please, and you won’t have one.
Believe me, the world of opera can be and often is a cut-throat profession. Most singers are professionals, at least to each other’s faces. Managements are out to make money, which they must or the entire business folds. They are not often all that honest, nor do they always honor contracts, not even with big names. Singing and passing auditions is really one of the smallest parts of the career (even though without a voice you won’t get anywhere). Dealing with the rest of it is what is the problem. One really has to have nerves of steel. But the rewards are great as well. There is nothing like singing so well with everything working great, and all your fellow singers all meshing just perfectly in every way. The results are so moving. They give a high that is simply unbelievable. That doesn’t happen all that often, though. But even then, the joy of actually singing, doing something you love, and really being rewarded for it is a very special experience. But all of that comes about through VERY HARD WORK. Things just don’t happen because you have a super voice (and so many students really think that does happen; even with greats like Ponselle, who began at the top, you have to stay there, and if you didn’t do a great deal of work to get there, you soon learn you have to or you won’t stay at the top). A singer, no matter how great they become, is constantly learning, working, perfecting, growing, improving, reevaluating, and working on the most basic stuff to keep good funtion. Daily work is an absolute. Daily study is something that never ends. New roles present new challenges. Again, you must reevaluate HOW to do those things and keep your balanced function. It is never-ending work. Very few make it a life career, very few. And fewer yet make a great name for themselves. And fewer yet become household names. 1 in about 100,000 hopeful singers even makes enough to survive and pay their bills. Most have to end up marrying people who can work to offer more constant income. And so many hopefuls, like those you described, will be used up before they actually even got a chance to get to the starting gate. I don’t say this to be discouraging, but those are the facts about this profession. Yet, if one can actually make it work, make a living, enough so they can concentrate their lives on their art, the rewards are super. The sense of personal satisfaction is really something. And as a career starts to draw closer and closer to a close, you look back with great humility. Truly, evenything that has happened is a miracle, a real miracle. And in time, you will be completely forgotted by everyone. A new generation of singers will pop up. They will win the hearts of a new public. Opera will be sung this way or that, and what came before will be seen as old fashioned. But it will go on, as it has done for many hundred years already.
Well, I wouldn’t really name the company here publically, but lets just say it’s a very big house. The singers described are still either finishing their education or are freshly out of it, and the production we do is not a typicall opera, though the concept is basically very similar to something you might find in the Magic flute. While very very big name people do sing there, these local productions are being put together from “mortals” who somehow get a chance trough this to sing at such a prestigious house inside which normally you wouldn’t be able to even get as audience member if you don’t have quite some money not to say singer, unless you’ve made quite a career. Ironically, I’m among those who were never able to afford to look at a single production there, and yet I’m standing on the stage there singing now. And it actually might be a door opener for a career for these soli. So, it’s fairly young people in the lead parts who are sort of happy to be able to sing on such a big name house. And while you might find absolutely amazing musicians there, you might equally find that some of them have no clue about voice…where we come to all the things which were talked about on this blog. The tongue, the placement, the concert pitch, the bad directors etc. etc. etc.
You would think that it is common sense that if a solo singers voice is not heard further than the 5th row without microphone, that something is wrong…well, sadly it isn’t.
But this is just one occasion, what stuns me the most as I noted is that these things can be seen happening all around, since I was lately sort of scouting trying to find a place I could maybe sing. Just go to a rehersal of a local choir or theatre which is not some huge name house. You might encounter zillions of singers of all ages who go trough these things and I really don’t understand how you can survive all that, since not all can start big to jump across that. You either need to have someone who will put you on such a solid vocal foundation that you will be able to go trough this hurricane of things which will come upon you, or you need to be naturally so perfectly blessed to be able to get trough it long enough to make a name for yourself, because only then it seems your words also start to matter somehow.
Because, starting to understand what is being talked here on the blog is one thing. Starting to apply that on yourself and making progress is another. And when you get to that that you’re lets say functionally good, learning how to protect your voice in the environment which will with no doubt come upon you if you will try to make something with your voice, inside which your vocal foundation will be put to test (and yes, a test, not a demonstration) daily is a completely different matter. This step of protecting yourself among the ones who will try to put you in their visions, ideas etc. and even call your names for not obbeying is what caused me lately to have some new found respect for some people who made it in the world of opera.
Dinko, all this simply shocks me. Ruining voices then putting them on mikes! How stupid. How sad. Those poor singers. They will be through before they have a chance to begin.
I don’t know the opera company you are speaking of (as I don’t know what country you are living in), but most opera companies hire names to sing real solo parts (they need to draw in crowds). I am so thankful they don’t mess with us! I don’t know of a single singer who would put up with all that junk you have described.
But some companies do use local people to sing the bit parts (too expensive to hire names for those). Since I have never actually had to deal with those singers, other than hear them sing their lines (usually not much at all), I have never really thought about what they are being put through by the managements. IF they are being forced to ruin their voices in such a way (blowing so much loose air through the folds), I feel for them.
You would be surprised at how often those comprimario singers ask the name singers about singing and careers. Most of them have fairly good voices (they need them, just because they are not singing the big lead roles doesn’t mean they can sound like garbage). Sadly, when they ask me how to move from singing those comprimario roles to real roles, I really can’t tell them more than continue singing well, as I never went that route. I began at the top singing major roles right off.
But it just breaks my heart to hear that companies subject those singers to such terrible vocal methods. Everything suffers. Every part of the production will suffer greatly with such abuse.
I would say such people should quit singing for opera companies like that and seek to solidify their singing and audition for more important positions BEFORE they ruin things completely. But I know that is much easier said than done for nearly all of them.
But that gets us to a question: does one sing just to sing with the hope something will come of it? Or does one think about what is happening and quit?
Personally, I would quit in such a situation. The money is not that great singing bit rolls, not enough to endure possible vocal ruin. Find out if there is damage, and seek to fix it. Then I would search for a really good teacher, and work at making my voice work wonderfully well. At least that would give more of a chance to do something with the voice. There are never guarantees, never. One can have the best voice imaginable, the greatest stage presence possible, and still “not really make it” and end up being a serviceable singer and nothing more. That is still an income, though. But it is certain that if one ruins one’s voice no career will ever be possible.
Those things you shared just shocked me, and made me feel so sad for those being subjected to such vocal ruin. I know that training has become pitiful for most singers these days, even those who eventually make a name for themslves, but I had no real idea that the chorus and comprimario singers were being used in such a terrible way just for “vocal affects.” That really shocks me. Very shameful indeed.
Thanks for the answer…Well it is not that dramatic in my case, since I am mostly in a choir position for now and don’t still study singing profesionally in an university. But it did allow me to approach this world where you are offered money to work with someone who supposedly has the “know how” and wants to put his ideas on you, even though he likes your voice, which simply can’t be done. I have less than a month to go trough this so it will be ok for me and then I’ll get out. I do practise support and posture quite a lot and do a lot of “voiceless” singing. In a way I do all how I would do it, I just don’t create a single tone and go trough my sheet music like that and think about how I would sing it. I was actually quite tempted to take this thing up and try it, but I don’t see it go further like this, so I will choose these opportunities I get a little better next time.
But it did make me think a lot. And I do feel sorry and do constantly ask myself what will be with others who can’t just say no or quit now. I luckly have another profession too which I study and can afford myself to sing simply when I want to, or even make money with it when I feel I can. Others are basically trapped there, and there are many of them. And I was constantly wondering about this and what to do when you’re in this position.
The example of solo singers I have a chance to look at and listen currently is quite extreme. They are asked and taught to sing in a way which makes their voices impossible to function properly, so, in this sense, they can’t carry, the voice doesn’t project enough, since the tone is so full of air, it has no ring, absolutely none, and it’s a big name opera house. So, to solve that, the powers that be didn’t change their ideas of how things should be and as a solution they just put a microphone on them. What basically just covered up the problem to an extent, and they use some automatic sound processing that covers unvocalized air I believe, so the audience doesn’t really hear the air, I didn’t, and it all leaves these singers to figure out how they can actually have a career in this world, which has absolutely stunned me.
Because trough reading Michaels or your wonderful and informative comments here, you can be aware of many things you weren’t before and discover a healthier way to use your voice. But it doesn’t help, if you sing in an environment which doesn’t allow you to function the way you should. And I saw it happening quite a few times, in all sorts of environments I had a chance to be in, either trough singing or stage design…from singing education, to opera, concerts, choirs, musical…all the people who decide how things should be, make you sing in ways which don’t encourage a healthy voice. As noted, even going that far to sacrificing the projection of a singers voice and putting them on microphone, just to get an effect they want or believe is good. And I don’t think I would be able to go trough this world for 5+ years, how much formal training would last. And do really wonder how people of today who are hoping for a career in opera or classical music field actually go trough these things and what can they do to survive that. For me it’s now ok, because it was just 2-3 months, plus I was even in a privileged position to be in choir, not solo, what does make the thing easier compared to the soli. But it gave me a glimpse of their everyday, or what is their everyday supposed to be in the next 20+ years. And how the voice can last and survive trough this treatment for so long I honestly don’t know. It made me make think in a little difefrent terms about my future singing and what I could do with it. But I don’t think I will subject myself to a decade of vocal abuse to get a degree. I think I wil be able to get more out of myself by working and studying privately with people who know what they do and I choose when I get to it. And then choose to sing in environments, groups or solo where I will find it to be user-friendly. And it’s ok for me. But some simply don’t have a choice.
Dinko, I really feel for you and your situation. Fortunately for me, I never had to go the university route. I was well taught and because of my teacher’s connections entered into a real career. Conductors in that situation don’t teach singers what to do, or deal with technique at all. Even coaches usually don’t mess too much with your singing technique but concentrate more on interpretation.
You are in the terrible world of academia, which is the battle field scattered as far as the eye can see with vocal casualties.
I have had to sing with a high diapaison many times in the professional world, and one sings in that diapaison and you have no choice about it (you can’t get the conductor to change, that is why I say so many of them care less about singers or real singing function; they only care about their super brilliant orchestral sound and nothing more; and most conductors now days have no clue about singing to begin with, they are never taught anything about it; it wasn’t like that in the past or when I started singing, most conductors were first trained with vocal music and opera before they ventured into symphonic works).
You must really consider your support/appoggio and rely totally on it. You cannot force the sound to sound like it would in the chest range when you are not singing in that range, no matter what the notes on the paper tell you. On lower notes, one must rely more on diction than on vocal power. On high notes, one must really stress in one’s mind the need to NOT push the sound. If you don’t have the notes at that higher diapaison, you don’t have them. It is that simple. And forcing them out simply cannot and should not be done. The notes will not come anyway, and you will always be flat.
A mind trick I found that helped was to THINK LOW, not just low in the larynx and the tone coming from low in the body, and low breath support, but actually imagine the tone sitting nicely in a comfortable place. The biggest issue a singer has when singing at a very high diapaison is knowing the notes sound TOO HIGH. That seems to encourage the singer to feel the notes too high. The throat seems to constrict, and the larynx seems to really shoot up high in the throat. That is the very thing that must be avoided. If one allows oneself to feel high up there, the voice will be under extreme stress. That is why I say FEEL things LOW. On the highest notes, you may have this sensation of reaching for the notes through your eyeballs or from some place over your head. Rather imagine them somewhere lower, in the hard palate area with a wide large open pharynx area. You are not directing the tone to any particular spot, but you are thinking the sound down out of the rafters. The notes will stay in pitch, but your throat will not feel so strained. There are times I have had to really do physical things as well (I am sure that Michael will not approve of them, but they worked). Some singers will stand on their toes to “reach up there” when they sing. That only accentuates the trying to get up there feeling. I found in really difficult passages I had to do the exact opposite. I had to actually imagine I was “sitting down” on the note. I have had to increase the leaning forward into the tone (but not enough so you look like you are bending over, or going to fall over flat on your face), tighten my butt cheeks, and actually bend at the knees. It is almost like I am going to sit down on a chair. Of course, the movements are very small. You are not doing great movements. But that act of putting the stress onto my legs seemed to help take it out of the throat.
Now this is only what has helped me. I cannot say it will help anyone else.
The really big difference between you facing that situation and when I faced it is I had over a decade of real singing, and a solid foundation already established. You do not.
If you know the correct way of doing things, then do it. One can increase the brilliance of the sound without spreading the mouth. If you are studying with Michael, I would have him instruct you on how to achieve those “different colors” using a real proper foundation of correct function. You can sing all sorts of colors by thinking them without actually changing anything of what you are actually doing.
Your conductor can babble about imaginary bubbles all he wants, and about putting the tone here or there until the cows come home, for in reality a person simply cannot direct the tone anywhere. It is a sound wave, not an arrow one shoots. Your teacher is an idiot. But listen to what it is he is looking for, not his instructions on how to achieve it because his instructions achieve nothing at all. Once you understand the sound he is looking for, use your real understanding of what should be done, and do it that way. I have never seen too many teachers object, if the sound they hear is better than what they were expecting.
Also, one doesn’t have to do anything to the extremes the choir conductor demands. Each person’s face is different. One can “pretend to do those things” without actually doing them. Allow a bit of a smile with the mouth, but do most of it with your eyes. The mouth will then “appear” to smile, even though it really hasn’t moved. Rather than pulling down the face, which doesn’t darken the tone, but makes it dead, simply allow the upper lip to drop ever so slightly and have the face take on a more somber look. It appears the same to him, but in reality doesn’t do what he is asking at all. But inwardly still feel that “inner smile” and the uplift of the facial muscles, like a Mona Lisa smile. You will still feel the correct sensations, but you won’t appear like you are doing things much too differently than he is asking.
You will have to practice this all in front of a mirrow so you can keep the correct sensations and “mimic” the things he wants.
I am amazed solo singers have any problems at all. He couldn’t function without them. Perhaps because you are at a university there are others to choose from.
This is why I really HATE universities. They teach nothing but junk, have instructors who know nothing and can actually sing nothing, and they spend all their time ruining voices for their own egos. And finding one that isn’t like that is nearly impossible.
All I can think of that must be done is KEEP PROPER FUNCTION no matter what. Everything you do, even if it gives the appearance of what he is asking for, must never actually stray from proper function. You know your voice and how it feels. University singing will NEVER give you a career, nor will it pay you much. Even community choir singing, even if it does pay, doesn’t pay enough to destroy your voice for someone else’s ego trip. Never stray from correct principles.
And I do agree with Lisa Della Casa, yes, pretend you are listening and even trying to understand, but in the end, do what you know is right, what is best, and what keeps your voice working properly.
I am not giving this advice as a teacher, but only as someone who has faced the issue professionally. The only difference is professionally the end results is what mattered. Conductors didn’t care how I achieved what I achieved, as long as it gave them the dramatic results they were looking for. I could listen, even sort of do what they said in rehearsals, and then did exactly what I wanted to do in performance, as the public wanted great singing, not weird sounds to suit someone’s strange view of things. I got in trouble some times. And there are conductors I have never worked with again, and never will work with no matter how much I am paid. They are idiots when it comes to singing. They may know music, but they don’t know the voice. They are no loss to me, and I am sure because they couldn’t control me, I am no loss to them. But first and foremost comes my voice and my talent, not their egos.
I know a student can’t really have that attitude, but it is still an attitude you need, even if you disguise it so no one knows you have it. The protection of your voice is far more important than their egos.
And remember, a performance that is made up of contrived sounds is NOT a good performance, nor does it really please an audience. People know when they are hearing the real thing. They know when they are hearing a real voice. They know when they are hearing real feelings in a very real way. Your teacher may not have figured that out, but it is true.
I also agree with going home and doing things correctly after singing a while the wrong way. You must undo bad singing before it becomes a habit. However, DO REST YOUR VOICE before you begin your workout. It needs time to settle down again from all that strained singing, before you start working it into doing things as they should be done. If you really feel quiting the choir is the best thing to do, then do it. There are other choirs to join, I am sure. Whether they will count for anything, that I cannot say.
You know, you can also do a lot of work MENTALLY while your are allowing your voice to rest. You can practice proper body posture, proper breathing, proper mental feelings of what proper function is. You can take the physical stance of singing as if you were actually singing, but simply don’t sing. All of this reinforces good vocal foundations without actually tiring the voice. One can do a lot of mental practicing, even of roles and musical scales, without actually singing. The key is to do it as if you were actually doing it. Have the body act as if it were actually in the act of singing. This involves the muscles in the correct coordinated way without straining or adding more ware to an already tired voice. All singing begins with preparation. We put the body in “singing mode” and then it is ready to sing. Put yourself into that mode, stand as if you were singing, use your face as if you were singing, breath as if you were singing, support as if you were singing, do everything as if you were singing, but don’t actually sing. Then when your voice has had time to recover and you go to sing, your body is ready to do what it should. But a singer can prepare a whole lot of stuff mentally and through “physical role play” without singing and get much benefit from it all. After all, singing actually starts in the mind, then in the heart and soul, then in the words and meaning of the words, and then through the music itself. All of that must be felt within our beings before it can travel outward to an audience. And we must practice doing it before we can do it.
I hope some of this will give you some encouragement. I really don’t have answers for your situation. The more I hear what students endure to fill their requirements for grades, the less I approve of music courses at universities. I really feel for people like you. I really do. I really don’t have any answers for what you can do with the situation itself. All I can think of are things that can maybe help you get through it with the least amount of damage possible. I am sure Michael has more wisdom on this than I. I really do wish the best for you, Dinko, I really do.
Very interesting posts and replies. But it remains to ask, what can one do about it to survive all that? A revolution most probably won’t happen with these things, nor with vocal pedagogy anytime soon. I am currently myself in a situation in which I have to sing certain things in a certain way, to satisfy either the conductor or the choir director, and since there aren’t many of us, you sort of can’t hide under a rock. Placing the voice in all sorts of imaginary bubbles around the head and domes in the mouth to create different colors, different results which are “more interesting” obviously than the natural tone. When you are in a situation when you are asked to place the voice somewhere, to color it, to manipulate the vibrato, the tongue, the face…What can you do? If I’m asked to strech my mouth left-right in a wide smile and place the voice somewhere forward, because the choir director asks for an extremely bright sound on words like “benedictus”, and make my sound completely dark and covered with pulled down face with the oposite mouth position on words like “oscurum”, or remove vibrato, or widen it, or to place the voice in the mouth or in the nose or in the face, or inside the skull or whatever, because the director likes that effect which he gets, I can’t oppose him, because I am nothing to him. Solo singers have even bigger problems how I see, because they are in the first plan and have to do these things to even make it trough college. And not everyone can afford moving out of their country or even town to enter a university which has no ignorant teachers, or finding a good choir director or cancel all performances until you find a good conductor. It also happens that the orchestra is tuned very high, and even though it’s choral music, you notice the bass I line becoming extremely comfortable for a tenor and things like that. Is the only solution not to sing? Because sometimes you don’t have a choice if you want to make money with it. Or is there a way how you can get trough these situations? I kind of try to obbey to what I’m asked, and then when I get home I vocalise my voice as I usually do to get it sort of back to the place it was, but it does make me tired on the end and don’t plan on doing this any longer. But I see many people around me who don’t really have a choice and can’t quit. If you’re a singer in education, you can’t do anything but sing at an A-450 or so pitch if the conductor wants or place the voice or something if you are asked to do that by your voice teacher, because you’re nobody, or you’re a bad student, nobody will want you and you can’t have a career. Plus, there are always those who will be willing to replace you and do what is asked, so you are very replacable and kind of have to do the best to stay where you are. So you end up pleasing everyones ideas about how things should be and what you do the least is sing naturally as you’re supposed to, because the way how voice works is on the very end of the list of things to do to make a performance good. And you can’t afford yourself to go to a teacher and say “you know, you’re actually wrong…” Maybe the way to get trough this is how Lisa Della Casa said in one interview that “you listen, you pretend as if you heard what is being asked from you…and on the end do as you know best”…
Sorry, this is not on wagging tongues, but vocal placement, but the issue is the same. The rising diapaison puts even the idea of placement in a very touchy place.
As an aside note, most musicians of today really don’t know how new a thing standard pitch is. It is a late 19th century thing. And even then, with standard pitch being set as A-435 and Concert Pitch at A-440 one still finds that it changes from place to place.
It was always like that. Even doing early music, musicians must be careful when they think this or that diapaison was the norm for this or that time period. Actually, it all depended on where one lived. Pitch ranged from as low as an A-420 to as high as an A-460.
I have an aria that Farinelli sang (written by his brother) and it is in 6 different keys. The first key he used was that written by his brother, which brought the great singer no lower than a B below middle C and no higher than an A above the clef. On each rendition, he writes the city where it is to be sung (obviously, he would send a copy of that aria to the orchestra conductors or opera producers there with “his key”).
In some renditions the music is written for him to sing as high as a high D and no lower than the E above middle C. In other renditions he descends to the F below middle C and goes no higher than the E at the top of the clef.
Would such a great singer as Farinelli actually have so many versions and keys because he had such little control of his voice? Hardly likely. If you study out the cities on the various pieces, one learns quite quickly that those cities with the high diapaison had the piece set in a lower key, and those with a very low diapaison the piece set in higher keys. If one uses the pitch used where his brother wrote the pieces of music, one learns that that city tuned to the diapaison of an A-428. That is close enough to an A-430.
If we consider the voice (soprano voice; it is slightly lower for mezzo and contraltos, with the men being roughly an octave lower) with its natural changes from one register to the other, we see that Farinelli problably had his chest voice end about an E or F at the bottom of the Treble clef (of course, he used the soprano clef back then, which confuses things even more), and his change to his higher register was about an E or F above that.
When this is considered as a base, then we see exactly how he transposed and why. He did it to keep the breaks at the correct places in his voice. Though on paper it may have looked one way, to his ear it all fit nicely as it should have. IF the diapaison were too high, he lowered the piece so it felt the same in his throat; If it were low, he raised the piece, again for the same comfort feeling in his throat.
Because conductors were seen as nothings then, and instrumentalists were very far behind singers in their technique, no one would have bothered to worry about why the notation changes. They would have seen a great singer singing something in a key comfortable to him.
And since transposition was not seen as a crime back then, no one would have judged his artistry on those grounds.
You find the same thing in published scores. Often if it was published in Paris, it would have lower keys than if published in other places in Italy. Would that always be because singers couldn’t sing the higher notes in Paris, but could in Italy? Most likely not. Rather, the diapaison of the two areas was completely different, and publishers quickly learned when Italian singers can to sing that the keys were “wrong” for what they were used to singing elsewhere in Italy.
Today we have some scores that are published entirely in the wrong keys. Lucia, for example, has a very interesting key progression in its original keys, but because of the need to sing a high E flat and other high note endings, Donizetti’s keys were sacrificed. The interesting mood changes that come with the different keys is lost. There are entire acts in Lucia that are in one key. But key meant a lot to Donizetti, and it should be respected.
We have our published scores of Bellini’s La Sonnambula, which are completely wrong compared to the manuscript score. EVERYTHING sung by Amina is at least a third, often a fourth, lower in the manuscript. None of the high D flats or E flats we think are in the score were ever there. The published key was not the result of diapaison but because Madame Persiani sang it in those keys, as have most all coloraturas since.
Malibran, one of Bellini’s favourite singers in the role of Amina, sang it a third lower than the manuscript for the most part, but in London lowered it even more (and this because of the diapaison of the day being different than where she sang in Italy). When Bellini heard her sing the role, he was lucky to hear a B flat as her highest note, but heard many lower Gs below middle C, even a two octave jump in “Ah! non giunge” from that low G above. Bellini was never that picky about the keys used in his operas, as long as they were sung well. Malibran sang it well.
The contralto, Alboni, sang the opera in the same keys as Malibran.
Then we have the tenor part, which in the printed score is a third lower (in Elvino’s solos) than the manuscript, which the creator of that role, Rubini, often sang even higher, as much as a fourth higher than the manuscript. The duets with him and Amina are a tone lower than the printed score.
All this transposing happened to make it comfortable for the singers wanting to sing the opera, but not because of a change in diapaison.
Later composers, like Verdi, wouldn’t allow transposition of their music. It had to be sung as it was written. Occasionally, he was moved upon to write a different aria for a particular singer, but not often.
And from that point on, it became a “sin” to transpose. But the diapaison kept moving up. So that is how we ended up where we are today. And no one seems to understand why it is destructive to the voice.
Now I know this entire section is really on “wagging tongues” and all that. Well, if we consider that the wagging is because of undo tension on the voice and in its production, and with the raising diapaison causing singers to really have to strain for notes, and yet, at the same time, they are forced to sing lower lines with the same intensity and coloration they would if they were using their real lower ranges, is it any wonder that tongues wag, that voices bleat, that vibratos are so wide that one can drive a car between the notes that make up the sound, and that singers are not lasting? I am not surprised at all.
Sorry my comment ended so abruptly. I had to get to rehearsals. Yes, this matter of pitch is a very serious one.
I have some recordings (they are readily available commercially) where they mixed Caruso’s voice with modern instruments. The booklet with the recording let’s us all know the huge problem they had, and a problem they found with ALL releases of Caruso’s recordings (and many others of that period).
When they went to mix the accompaniment with modern and full orchestras as we would hear in recordings of today, they found the pitches were nowhere close. Firstly, the old “6 man orchestra” seldom gave the listener the real idea of what the orchestra actually was required to play in performance, and the accustic balance didn’t work at first with the accustic recording of Caruso.
Then they discovered that their pitches were wrong. Like all companies who remaster these old recordings, they tried to keep consistency in the speed of the recordings, and assumed the pitch was an A-440 we hear today. As they researched the pitches used in the US and at the Metropolitan of that day, they learned Caruso sang and recorded not at an A-440, but an A-432. The Metropolitan’s orchestra was at an A-430-432 for opera, and an A-435 for Ballet (though by the time Ponselle was singing regularly, they were striving to bring it up to an A-440, and she had to constantly remind them to keep it at the lower pitch).
When the correct pitch was accounted for, and the correct speed determined, the voice of Caruso became a very deep rich tenor. Not a light piercing one, but almost baritonal (which makes perfect sense, as he sang the Coat aria in La Boheme for an ailing singer, and the audience and critics were none the wiser; to them, the baritone sang the aria; a brighter tenor, even with the notes, would not have been able to carry it off).
The drama of his voice was more than evident, and the famous roles he sang (most particularly I Pagliacchi and La Juive) suddenly took on an intensity that was never heard before.
But the orchestra was the real problem. They couldn’t find many instruments needed (the brass, some of the woodwinds) that could be tuned to that former pitch. They simply were not available to any modern orchestra. They had to search in old museums or have some actually made in order to make the recordings.
The balance between the modern sound and the accustic sound of Caruso, to me, has never been wedded together successfully. However, the accompaniments are far richer, warmer, and more emotional than what we are used to hearing today.
I believe that in the US and Canada, pitch is by law stated it cannot exceed and A-442. The Metropolitan uses an A-437 most of the time, which singers coming from Europe love. Singing is much easier here, much more secure, and the voice feels more relaxed and functions more fully, and is richer.
Just as Science has muddied the waters and brought nothing but confusion to the teaching of singing, it has muddied the waters with pitch. So many composers and music people just cannot see the difference in pitch, after all, it is just a small distance mathmatically. What can seem like a fraction of nothing in math, will seem like one is singing a full third higher with the voice.
And this is what they are not understanding: the voice is constructed on the lines of how the body is constructed. It cannot be altered to do something else. You can’t “rebuild it” like one can instruments and make it so the voice will function normally at a higher diapaison. It just isn’t possible.
Because of its physiology, the voice will function as it is meant to, no matter what science says, or what ignorant instrumentalists think. There are natural breaks in the voice, often called registers, and there is an adjustment of the vocal track that happens when one passes through those breaks. Singers learn to smooth out those breaks and to pass through them without troubles. But those changes are there. With the rising diapaison, singers are now required to sing those breaks in places they will not naturally occur. And that happens, because musicians still want the sound of those various registers to be heard as they were meant to be heard, or as they are written in the music. But they cannot be heard that way, if we produce them on notes that are meant to be produced on a higher register function.
Consider the great recording of Tebaldi in Aida under Karajan. When first released on LP, tebaldi was condemned for her terrible high C in the “O Patria mia” aria. And yes, it was terrible. She was not even close to pitch. But we forget, Karajan loved the higher pitch setting, and even then was often using the A-450 as his pitch. (that could be why Callas left the high E flats out of the Mad scene with karajan, and when she did sing only once, it was super strained and from that point forward she dumped the role).
Tebaldi, even at her best, had a high C that was questionable. It was there sometimes, sometimes had to be pushed, and other times was nearly screamed. That was the actual limit of her range. She simply couldn’t go higher. She was trained to an A-435, and even the A-440 gave her troubles. She talked about the rising diapaison in an interview.
It hurt her to be panned by the critics for that Aida, when only one note was wrong. The rest of the role was masterfully sung. She also writes about how by the time it was recorded and considered the final cut, she had sung the aria many many times, and for over 2 hours. Her voice by then was given out. And it was the line with the High C that was taken over and over again to get it right for Karajan.
It wouldn’t have mattered what the poor woman did, she would NEVER have been able to sing a good high C at that diapaison. Her voice simply didn’t have it. I believe, and this is only me, that one of the reasons she branched off into more dramatic roles was there are much fewer high C’s (if any at all) and her voice was rebelling from the strain of singing at a diapaison she simply couldn’t sustain. Yes, she pushed the lower parts of the voice to be dramatic, but when the diapaison is constantly rising, and you still need to sing to earn your living, what can you do? You either sing the same roles and become a failure because you can’t keep the notes, or you change to something else. She chose the latter. (and only tenors can get away with transposing these days, believe me, that is the truth)
As I say, what seems like only a fraction of change on paper (the mathmatics and physics of sound) for the throat is like singing many notes higher than usual. The throat simply rebels because it cannot sustain the strain.
My view on this is that is one reason we have so many singers who fall by the wayside all the time. They may not be singing with good function most of the time, but the strain at singing at an uncomfortable diapaison only pushes them more and more into that unbalance.
We need sanity to return to ALL aspects of singing, or we are really in for some troubles to come.
Great info, Bea. This reminds me that Allan Lindquest wrote a proposal for exactly what you refer to. He was leading the movement on behalf of the American Academy of Teachers of Singing. It was titled “A Recommendation for the Correction of Pitch Involving Performances of Singers in Opera, Oratorio, and Choral Music of the Baroque-Classic Period: 1620-1820”, written in 1974. I have a copy but can’t put my hands on it right now.
Believe me, Michael, raising pitch is a real problem. Orchestras like it higher for the brilliant sound. But often the music they are playing so brillliantly was not written to actually sound that way. Wagner liked a higher diapaison, but for him, it was the A-440 which is actually officially called Concert Pitch, while A-435 is still official pitch. However, one would never know it as most all instruments are tuned to an A-440, at least in North America. Not so in Germany, where the pitch is really ridiculous in most places.
Having sung in so many diapaisons ranging from an A-375 to an A-468 I can tell you it does play real ruin to the voice. There is a society that is out there striving to standardize pitch and keep it where it is most logical for it to sit. They are supported by nearly all great vocalists in most all fields, not just opera. It is composers and instrumentalist of today who really care less about how wrong the sound is, and how out of natural it is to produce.
Now, as I have said, I have a huge range, so you would think that it wouldn’t matter. Just transpose it up and sing it that way. It is still well within the range of notes I have. That is true, technically. However, it isn’t that simple. Yes, I can get the notes, and without the strain most singers will face, but the voice “feels wrong.” I know from the music that the composer wrote the notes he wrote for a reason: they reflect the ideas of the words and the emotional content of the text. When, for example in La Luce Langue, from Macbeth, Verdi writes the aria so low in the beginning, and especially in the middle section, it is because he wanted a certain sound quality. He wrote the part for a soprano, not a mezzo as it is often sung. It is NOT one of those roles that can be either (even though we hear it sung by either now days all the time) as so many musicologists say. He wrote it for a soprano! He knew the soprano chest notes would sound a certain way, and it was that sound he was seeking. It makes the words more evil, more menacing, more intense. He didn’t require volume either at that point. He knew a real soprano wouldn’t be able to bellow out that sound so powerfully. The richness of the tone and the diction of the words would make the affect.
Because of our rising diapaison, sopranos, excepting some very huge dramatic sopranos (who usually cut the floating high D in the sleepwalking scene, and often omit trills in the drinking song, and have some sloppy heavy coloratura — this is not Brunhilde here, but often sounds like it) simply cannot do justice to the role. So mezzos have taken it over with varying results.
But that makes the feel of the piece/role all wrong. If Verdi wanted a mezzo, he would have chosen one. Mezzos and contraltos have a richness in the lower range that is part of the hallmark of their sound. That is not the same as the chest tones of a soprano.
But with the rising pitch, people would think it would make it easier for a soprano. It makes the notes easier to sing, but again, a soprano is really now in her middle voice, not her chest sound, and the balance Verdi was seeking is gone. The wickedness and madness (which is always there with her, but will come to full circle in the sleepwalking scene) is not there.
We must also remember that Verdi wrote Macbeth at two different times, so there is a difference between the scores. However, excepting replacing “Triumphal” (a very difficult coloratura aria in the first version of the opera, which really makes it clear the voice chosen was soprano) with “La luce langue,” most of Lady Macbeth’s music was not really changed all that much. Some duets were shortened a bit, but nothing really all that drastic.
So, even with the rewrite, Verdi never changed his choice of voice, only how he was using it to more dramatic purposes.
It is pitch that is destroying the intent of many composers.
Josef – Great points.
Iris – Thanks for your input. I hope more University singers get involved here. Thanks for leading the way.
Bea – Great history, as usual. I have been interested in the effects of rising concert pitch for some time. Great to hear your experiences with the Verdi performance with historical pitch. My group did a couple performances of Magic Flute and I transposed the arias down for better comfort. I did some research to see how that would relate to the pitch in Mozart’s time. It turns out that I was just getting it back to what he wrote. So I didn’t feel as bad about it. I’m sure this has something to do with why I feel my voice behaves more correctly when I sing the Verdi baritone arias than when I sing the tenor ones.
So much of this confusion results also because so many of the most famous voice teachers of the past stressed placement. Marchesi stressed it to the point that she had her singers make sure that they changed from Chest placement, to middle placement, to head placement on exact notes. For her, placement was more than just forward of backward, but the singer had to direct the tone into the chest, into the mask, and into the top of the head at very specific times. Her method did produce some really exceptional singers: Melba, Sanderson, and a few others, even the great Mezzo Olive Fremstad (who sang nearly everything). The reality is, those things happen on those notes because of the physiology of the vocal function, not because those notes are so chosen. Interestingly, today with the raising diapaison, what those notes were (for the top, D,E,F,F sharp top of the clef) back when those books were written are not the notes we sing today. Yet, teachers doggedly stick to those explanations of when a singer must change their placement, or sometimes called, register changes (they even stick immovable to the exact pitches, which today are actually higher than in the past). Yes, the voice changes, but we can’t direct that change at a given note. To make a real muddle of all this, when those books were written by Garcia, Lamperti, Viardot-Garcia, the pitch was quite different. Their F, for the change of soprano to her head tones, would be in today’s pitch a G, and with some orchestras today (being at an A-456) actually be almost an A. In their day, those notes would most definitely be sung in head with no mixed voice at all. Chest tones to the middle voice would be the same. Their change on E (which was common for the voice of itself to change at that point) is not the same as our E, which is again much higher than their note. Yet, we still demand those exact changes on those notes because someone wrote them down, even though their E would today be a D flat or even a C below the E (depending on the pitch of the orchestra). So our rising diapaison has made it so that we actually carry the chest voice automatically higher than they did and well into the middle voice, and we carry the middle voice automatically higher than they did and well into the head voice. All because we are fixated on a certain set of notes, and not the actual pitches of the sound where the voice naturally migrates to those different registers.
I attended a lecture where they actually sang the music of Verdi pitched at his diapaison, which is much lower than ours, around an A-430. When I sang it, I was amazed at how comfortable it was, how the voice migrated between registers without any issues, and how rich, full, and far more ringing the voice became at that diapaison. Compared to the A-456 I was singing with orchestra at that time, the voice was rich and warm, while at the pitch of the orchestra it was piercing and dry. To fit the structures of the voice, we should revise all those pitches. Now the change from chest to middle is about a D flat, and from middle to head a D flat. If we think of those pitches, the voice will function more naturally in its changes of registers. But no one will think about that because of what is written, and so long ago in a different time.
I know that registers are not usually considered placement, but to some people, and in some writings, one actually places the voice into its registers, not just forward of backward.
And doesn’t that add to the mix of confusion?
How can you actually place your voice into the chest? Into the middle? (Mask) or into the head? Sound is not placeable.
Forward or backward placement is also a thing written about in the writings of master teachers of the past. Often it was used to describe the difference between a throaty sound and a non-throaty sound.
But all of these writings were attempting to tell the singers what they would feel if they were doing things correctly. If you are using the voice freely, it will migrate from one register to another, and you will notice the vibrations in these various places according to the pitches sung. But many great masters didn’t write this information as “this is how the voice works when sung correctly and functioning correctly” rather they wrote things as “one must place the voice into this or that resonating cavity to achieve this or that result.
And since 90% of all our teachers of voice, both privately and with universities, are all trained from those old manuscripts, they repeat what they read, and imply that what it says is what is to be done, not that it is a description of what is actually happening.
But that is understandable, for each one of those masters of the past was trying to sell his approach to future students, to drum up business, if you will. They had to show that their understanding was greater than that of their compeditor. Many of such books are also written in the driest and most boring of presentations possible as well. Jargin is the name of the game. IF it sounds impressive, it is.
If one goes even further back, the singing methods are so simple they seem to scream out for more. Pacchierotti, the great castrato, stated all one needs to sing well is good breath control and to pronounce well. Nothing more is needed. Based on the music he sang, that is hardly enough to go on. And like so many of his time (and even Garcia) the vast majority of what he wrote is mostly vocalizes, scales, and things to give agility. He doesn’t even provide a clue as to which vowels will help release the voice or help train it to lower the larynx, or what have you.
With Garcia came the desire to make things scientific, and so the really indepth explanations began, and all they did was muddy the waters even more. Confusing terms became even more complicated. And with science all the past teachings were thrown into the trash as we learned how the voice worked. So the poor singing student was left wondering what to believe.
It is no wonder to me that teachers all fall into the trap of “selling” these ideas, as they were forced to memorize them when they got their degrees. That is what they were taught, and we all know that to earn a degree as a pedigog, one MUST know all the writings of the past and be able to explain them in detail. How can they teach anything other than what they were forced to learn? And since actually understanding what is intended by what was written is usually not the requirement of education, they have no more understanding of what it really being said than the average person. Confusions abounds everywhere.
Now I have confused you all even more, the entire purpose of this entry is to show poeple just how illogical it is to believe everything just because it was written at some past time when singers all seemed to sing so perfectly. The reality is, they didn’t. Many great ones had very short careers (Rossini’s wife, for one, for whom he wrote Semiramide and many other operas). Verdi’s wife for another. Many of the most famous had very unruley voices that were really a miracle to witness on the nights they didn’t nearly fall apart (Malibran, Pasta, Viardot, Falcon and the list goes on).
The fact is, those great teachers of the past didn’t have any more of a guarantee that their students would have careers than teachers of today have. And even their greatest students didn’t necessarily even have careers that lasted. They may have been exceptional on the stage, but their vocalization was not always even close to perfect, the registers were often never blended, and they were knows for forcing the range up and down so they could sing everything.
As we read these great writings on singing, we forget that that is often the type of singer who was student of these great voice teachers. But we look at the music, and amazing as it is, we assume that they all sang it perfectly with well equalled voices. Most of them didn’t come close. You learn that by how their critics wrote of them, and back then the critics KNEW about voice when they wrote.
It is because of this, I fully understand why Michael stresses CORRECT FUNCTION, for that is the only things that works. It works because it is based fully in the functioning of the body, not on strange ideas that really are not anything more than a discussion of what things will sound like if done correctly. But it is far easier to teach DO THIS AND IT WILL SOUND LIKE THAT, than it is to teach how the body works and what to do to free up the function of the body.
Here is another issue that throws another monkey wrench into the mix: the structure of your body, face, and etc. Beverly Sills wrote in her autobiography about meeting Rosa Ponselle, and working with her on a few operas. Rosa Ponselle never studied singing at all, but was a natural singer with a great gift and a marvelous voice. Because of her lack of actually understanding of how her voice worked, she never felt comfortable on stage. Stage fright ruled her life, and that is really why she left her career.
While working with Sills, she kept telling her she must feel the music in the mask. It must be buzzing forcefully all over her face, and on high notes, she should feel like the top of her head was being nearly blown off. Sills tried desperately to achieve this forward ring, but could not feel it like Ponselle told her she must. Later, when she got back to her own teacher, she asked why she didn’t feel what Ponselle felt. The answer was simple: the structure of their faces. Ponselle had a very round wide face, which set up her sound to ring naturally in her mask. Her voice was a miracle. Its sound was perfectly balanced and equal throughout. She did nothing to restrict it at all. As a result it functioned as it should have, and because of the structure of her face, she felt it buzzing wildly in her mask, and on high notes, particularly forte ones, the ring in her head made it feel like the top of her head would blow off because of the sound vibrations.
Sills’ face was not constructed the same way, and it was impossible for her to copy or immitate the vibrations that Ponselle felt in her face. The more she tried, the worse things felt. When her teacher helped her understand that her body was not built the same as Ponselle’s, she let the issue go. Though she could feel the various vibrations as we all think of them, in the mask, in the chest, in the head, for her those feelings were very slight. For Ponselle, because of her body and facial construction, those senstations were extremely strong (as they also were with Enrico Caruso and Tito Ruffo).
How often have singers forced their voices all out of shape trying to recreate the vibrations of other singers whose bodies and faces were constructed completely differently? It happens all the time.
And this all happens because of what Michael has said: because they are using a sensation that can help them know they are doing things correctly, and turning it into an obsession, an expectation, a thing that they must recreate to the extreme, rather than using it only as an indicator that they are finally doing things the most functional way for their bodies.
though the concept of placement is a very confusing one, it’s still sad that many university-level voice teachers use it. Consequently, many undergraduates don’t end up with a very clear idea of technique or a very reliable one for that matter.
The big reason it rarely results in a desirable quality is because placement is a result of our tone production, not a cause. This means that we can’t accurately create it without creating the correct cause.
And the cause is proper function. When the voice is properly functioning there are slight amounts of placement in many, if not all, of the places mentioned. It is a feeling of “all over” placement. If we try to place the in any one area, forward for instance, what we are actually doing is restricting the natural expanding of the tone and confining it into that area.
I could not agree more. Voice placement is part of a vocabulary that causes too much confusion. “Correct” voice placement is the result of everything else done right. When the throat is perfectly relaxed with no constriction or tightness, when the diaphram is in functioning to support the air, when vowels are pronounced correctly as we ascend the scale, then the voice will find its placement almost as an automatic car transmission. When I am at my best I can feel vibrations sometimes quite strong on my hard palate, but to try to put it there is wrong, it is merely the resulting sensation when everything else is working correctly. In a word, get out of the way of what the voice wants to do naturally. This is the most difficult concept to learn, simplicity.