Kashudo (歌手道): Vocal Efficiency: a point of Ideology 1

A friend of mine who is having a great career once called me and “ideologue”. It was not meant positively. He felt my ideology of singing prevents me from doing what is practical to get ahead in the field. Without saying it, he meant that I should do whatever is necessary to create a sound that is considered “sellable”. Of course I would not be writing a blog about “The Singer’s Way” if I had taken his comment to heart. My friend is working at a very high level and lives the daily pressures of a field that has lost its heart. He does not have the luxury to think about what the “ideal” approach is. As many singers, he just wants what gets the job done, period. I don’t begrudge him this. It is a part of balance.

Just when I might consider his thoughts interesting, I find myself teaching a bunch of students who are working in theaters throughout Germany and suddenly receiving news of this success and that success. This is certainly not about blowing my own horn, but rather that of the students who have taken my process to heart. My own vocal development is always present in my mind. I owe them for their faith. Their improvement and their success inspire me on my own journey and reinforce in my mind the importance of ideology, of an “ideal” that we must strive for, a process that accompanies us through the easier days and the harder ones. There is in fact something to aspire to as artists, musicians and singers.

What I have lived these past few days, is what I had hoped for a long time: the voice is truly completely breath-driven. The glottis is truly a passive valve (when everything is balanced). I heard my own finished sound for the first time and it humbled me. It scared me in fact. That my little body could produce such a powerful sound with what felt like no participation from my throat has been the ideal that I have sought. The purity, the ring, the ease…Now I have to make it a habit throughout my range. Like a day at the golf course, when one great shot makes you comeback, I had some 50 high Bbs in the last few days that make me want to come back. I’m going to have to become physically more resilient to handle an entire tenor role. No more days off from Bikram Yoga!

In short I experienced moments when the science and the product became one. My understanding of the instrument as I have laid out here on the blog became a functional reality. I achieved a focused tone that did not require glottal squeezing. The fully erect vocal tract from glottis to soft palate is a total necessity in this breath-driven instrument. The soft palate assuming an adequate shape particularly with respect to the [a] vowel is a crucial component. The natural depth of the [u] vowel and the natural height of the [i] combine to accomplish optimum length of the vocal tract, a situation which influences a mode of phonation that requires the glottis to only narrow enough. I am certain that in this type of phonation that the vocal folds do not fully touch, but that the air itself completes the closure. Such is the practicality of the science of supra-glottal inertial air that has been discussed here so often (Thank you Martin Berggren for bringing clarity to the physics of it).

I gained faith in this “ideal” although there are many who do not believe it is possible, even though the science as explained by the likes of Titze and Sundberg makes a lot of sense. Once it has been experienced, one cannot go back. (I will record myself and share. I have allowed myself a certain seclusion to work my voice out, and I am not done yet. But you, my readers deserve a peak into this. I am traveling the next few days, but will post some phrases at least ASAP). Before experiencing personally my magical heldentenor Bbs, I experienced them in my students. I had real live models who created these wonderful sounds. And so I wish to thank them for their extraordinary instruments and the humility to take the word of a singer who is returning to his true voice but has not completed the journey.

Thank you first of all Rebecca Fromherz, the spinto with the fully opened heart (your name is no coincidence) for the amazing work you have done in the last month. Your “Vissi d’Arte” is a thing of dreams, and to see your graduation to this level of singing has been a privilege.

Thank you Katy Marriott, a Mezzo like the great ones. Congratulations on your triumphs, you deserve them. Thank you for letting me see our work together come to substance. Your work in the last month while I was gone humbles me. Mainz is lucky to get you.

Thank you Meta Powell for achieving such a flawless lower passaggio without ever pushing your beautiful voice. Born with the gentle spirit to sing Desdemona. I want that video.

Thank you Christian Newmann for being a Rossini tenor with substance. And a singer with tenderness. I want your high Ds.

Thank you Tatjana Killiani for having an even easier upper range after your illness. It takes faith to climb back on the horse. You deserve to go all the way.

Thank you Meredith Nicoll for turning a corner in two days and allowing your beautiful free lyric soprano to soar.

Thank you Ines Thomas Almeida for daring to take a path of patience and faith resulting in the beauty of your true voice.

And thank you Krzysztof Szumanski for trusting me with your gorgeous baritone voice. You will rock as Figaro!

Your collective beautiful voices, hearts and souls have not only made the travels of the last two months a thrill for a voice teacher, but your leaps of faith have shown me the results of “ideology” and inspired me to new trust in my own ability and vision as a teacher, and to new hope in my own journey as a singer.

© 03/31/2009