Kashu-do (歌手道): Psychological Barriers For Dramatic Voices

Anyone who spends time with a singer who has a truly dramatic instrument knows that such singers are in general of a different type of energy.  Being so driven by objectivity in vocal pedagogy one would think I would be somewhat immune to the such trepidations.  In the end I am a singer like every other singer and prone to fall victim to all the psychological pitfalls and emotional trappings.  But why do singers with dramatic voices suffer from such crises? It is simple actually!

When a lyric singer sings (lyric here, as distinguishable from dramatic), there is a clear cultural expectation of what s/he will sound like.  The lyric tenor who sings Faust or the lyric soprano who sings Mimi, or the coloratura who sings Lakmé are all “normal”, in the sense that such voices are recognizable as natural types.  Such singers will have sung the appropriate parts as early as high school choir and never truly stray from what seems an obvious path.

The dramatic soprano, by contrast, probably sang alto in choirs, and the dramatic tenor probably sang bass. The dramatic mezzo-soprano may have been told she had a bad voice or that she was always pushing.  Most of us, worldwide, are influenced by a vocal culture that finds anything that is beyond the norm to be suspect. Dramatic voices are not normal in a sense.  Culturally they are considered extraordinary, and the singer who is possessed of such an instrument must be willing to make extraordinary sound, with extraordinary strength to support the vibration of extraordinary vocal folds.

I have been feeling really well lately, experiencing a certain consistency in my voice. That is until I had a tired day and resorted to singing in a way that felt physically less demanding.  The eternal voices of teachers saying: “when it is right, it feels like nothing!” That may be true of lyric voices.  But every dramatic singer I have met speaks of the strength it requires in the body in order for the throat to feel balanced and unmolested.

The psychological barriers include:

1) Fear of physical effort in singing
2) Fear of creating a sound that is extraordinary (such sounds could not possibly come out of me!)
3) Fear of sounding and feeling out of control in the early phases of development
4) Identity crisis ( I am a tenor who sounds like a baritone.  I keep trying in subtle ways to take the baritone out of the sound)

To live on a daily basis with an extraordinary sound, it is necessary for one to find the extraordinary in himself/herself. Imagine if all opera singers spoke like Patrick Stewart or James Earl Jones, the two most admired voices in American culture!

Also, the more dramatic the nature of the voice, the more the possible sounds.  A large part of the lives of dramatic singers is identifying which of their vocal qualities is the appropriate one, the one that reveals the true essence of the singer?

This is also true of singers who make Fach changes.  Even when the change is successful, they often lament the loss of the former identity.

To all my dramatic voiced friends out there,  I encourage you to find the extraordinary in your spirit, such that you may consciously release the fullness of your exceptional voices.

© 04/29/2011

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