Hyperelasticity and Fach

Over the past 33 years of teaching, I have observed some singers that many teachers found difficult to categorize. Size of voice plays no role! Baritones that have easier high Cs than Tenors and mezzos who can sing the Queen of the nights second aria and warm up as high as the average lyric coloratura.

Like many teachers I have changed my criteria for vocal categorization over the years.  In my teaching infancy, range played a big role! But it took very little time for me to realize that this was severely inadequate. At age 22 I could vocalize to B-flat 1 on the low end to C# 5 on the high end. Now, somedays I can sing a clear g1 and g5 in a modal coordination.   Later, I considered that tessitura was the required marker. The ability to sing a tenor tessitura comfortably should confirm that one is a tenor, and likewise for sopranos. Yet the inability to do so does not confirm a lower voice. I could not function in a tenor tessitura until I suspected That I were a tenor. My sound expectations as a baritone influenced a fold posture that was not conducive to ease in a higher tessitura. So finally I have concluded that vocal intensity on certain frequencies was the best determinant.

When a true baritone sings an E-flat 4, the perception is that it is an important event.  F4 is certainly special and G4 is a “money-note.” When I sang as a baritone I tried to make those notes important! Yet when listening to those old recordings with different ears, they sounded as if I was attempting to make them sound more important than they actually were.  For a true baritone the tension along the length of the vocal folds (longitudinal tension) is markedly greater than in a tenor voice on F4 (F5 for mezzos vs sopranos).

For baritones and mezzos who have hyperelastic folds, even though they may have less difficulty on those notes than Tenors and sopranos do, the resultant tone has greater intensity/impact than those produced by their higher voiced counterparts.

How does one determine hyperelasticitt?

As of now, my evidence is anecdotal. It began with Kashu-do’s second summer Academy in 2015. There were two baritones, a young student and one of our teachers discussing their unusual muscular flexibility. They both could stand on one leg and wrap the other behind their neck. Having taught both, I also knew that both had relatively easy high Cs. When the young baritone attended university, his teachers experimented with the possibility that he might be a tenor and assigned him high C arias like Faust and Bohème. The teachers concluded in the end that he is a baritone and he continues his career today as a baritone.  The professional Kavalier baritone received comments from his colleagues at an A-theater that he should experiment with Wagnerian tenor roles. I resisted and advised him against it. After some months I agreed we should experiment but just then he received a contract for Renato in Ballo.  He decided to concentrate on his baritone repertoire. Since then I started paying attention to mezzos and baritones in particular who exhibited very flexible limbs and asked them if they acquired this flexibility or have always been limber! Natural flexibility is not necessarily the same as acquired. I have had several such students lately.

Although I concentrate on mezzos and baritones here, I also pay attention to higher voices. It is possible that a hyperelastic Lyric soprano can sing more easily in the stratosphere than her Coloratura counterpart. But where does powerful intensity begin in her upper range, such that would confirm greater longitudinal tension? If G5 is an important note, one should pay attention as to whether this singer should sustain Donn’Anna or Konstanze’s tessitura.

Finally, one should consider regular muscular flexibility in contrast with other conditions of hypermobility as a result of disorders like Marfan Syndrome or the many different categories of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Although I do not have any conclusive evidence or research for this subject, it seems a conversation that needs to be had.

© 25 February 2019

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