On May 13, 2023, in a concert with the Christchurch City Choir at the Transitional Cathedral, pianist Jeremy Woodside and I performed a solo piece for voice and piano, called ‘Kia Hora Te Marino’. A lot of people have been asking for information about the song. Hence today’s blog!
I wrote the piece for Dr. Jenny Wollerman to perform as part of her 21×21 project in the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts, 2022. The background to the song are that the words are a karakia, I wrote the tune and chords for classical guitar, and, composer Dr. Glenda Keam arranged my guitar arrangement into a piano arrangement. Here is a link to information about Dr. Wollerman’s 21×21 project and her performance of all of the 21 songs of the project, including mine.
The Māori language (Te Reo), is a beautiful language for classical singers because it has five vowel sounds. In particular, it is useful for developing the head voice because of the closed o sound and the u sound. Hence, I wrote this song, based on a scale, for this purpose. The song begins with half a scale, then an entire scale and then a scale and a half. I imagine a floating sound on the final note of the piece.
I would love that singers pick up the song and sing it at competitions and concerts. Here is the first page of the piece to give you an idea of how it goes. I would also love that teachers think of adapting the song for all types of singers, not just classical, which is why I wanted to write a song that can be played on a guitar easily and uses an accessible musical language. Hopefully, the song is a fun way to sing scales and develop the head voice. Remember what Lilli Lehmann said…scales, scales, scales!
In past blogs, I have encouraged singers to use recording as a learning tool. The iPhone, for example, is extremely handy and easy to use. Both audio and video can be used daily. The phone, together with reflection, can save on a lot of singing lessons! Today’s blog looks at recording from another angle by reflecting on the benefit of thinking through singing techniques that save editing time and the role of improvisation in songwriting and recording.
My new EP, ‘Recycle’, consists of four songs written, performed, and recorded over the Southern Hemisphere Summer of 2023. Producing this EP develops my interest further in the interaction between vocal technique, the mic, and the Logic Pro software. An example of this was that I utilized vocal techniques which minimize editing at a later stage; techniques such as the Bel Canto inaudible breath. To elaborate, the inaudible breath means the audio engineer does not need to remove breaths – they are inaudible!
Another Bel Canto technique that is useful is using the suspension of the rib cage to enable the singer to take fewer breaths; Dame Nellie Melba’s singing book ‘Melba Method’ contains some useful exercises. To explain, where there are fewer breaths, there is less work for the editor. In saying this, some will listen and hear that I have left many audible breaths in; breaths can be left in for emotion. Sometimes, I like to hear breaths which is why I prefer these Bel Canto techniques, combined with deliberate emotive breaths, over and above too much editing.
The EP ‘Recycle’ focusses on using singing techniques over and above applying a filter or EQ. To put it simply, the human voice has its own EQ and endless array of weird sounds. There is no need to use hours and hours of Logic Pro effects if a singer knows how to sing.
The EP also developed my songwriting by allowing me to revisit old songs and revise them. Initially, I chose ten songs and then narrowed the EP down to four songs that worked together as a whole. The album is very dark, albeit with some light at the end; the EP holds together by the darkness it contains. (I will include some of my happier songs in my next EP which I plan to release in the latter half of 2023). It was important to download the songs on my phone and go for a walk in order to decide which order to put the songs in before uploading them to the mastering website (LANDR in my case). I went for a walk and continually played with the order while walking around and around the park. Once the songs are uploaded on LANDR, that is the order!
Technically, Audio Engineering is like playing an instrument – practice, practice, practice! I discovered some cool tricks like adding a bar of silence at the beginning of the recording. To that end, always try to include bars of silence before the recording. However, should you need to include a bar, it is easy; just use the loop tool and then insert the silence by using the insert bar silence tool. Moreover, the practice allowed me to become more and more efficient with things like the use of the buses, knowing which acoustic space I required, and stacking.
My priority for this EP was to express myself. Some may ask: isn’t that the point of songwriting? Well yes, and no. For many, the priority is to sell or to prove their skills, whereas, for me, my sole objective was that the EP expresses my innermost feelings rather than conform to any genre. Hence, the EP is in the ‘Alternative Genre’ and, at times, is very alternative! The Alternative Genre allowed my music-making to be controlled by the subconscious – I just pushed the record and ‘went with it’.
The EP opens with a song called ‘Sage in the Tree’ which I wrote two decades ago about the end of a relationship; I updated this song by adding an outro. The song was conjured up in the Aotearoa New Zealand bush; the ‘sage’ is a native pigeon called the kererū. Importantly, I improvised the outro and allowed myself to ‘say what I wanted to say at that moment’. In other words, I only recorded the outro once and did not know what I was about to improvise. My favorite line is about discarding things that have not worked in the past; easier said than done when it comes to deeply engrained behaviors.
The second song, ‘Snowslide’, is about a confusing, dysfunctional relationship that is like being tumbled down a mountain by an avalanche. I have used the word ‘snowslide’ rather than ‘avalanche’. I express anger by ending the song with layers of ‘hiss’; the type of hiss that someone would do if they truly despised a person. Naturally, today we don’t hiss very much, if at all. This is a pity as it is probably less harmful than some of the other behaviors that people engage in. This hissing sound was then further distorted by a plug-in within the Logic Pro software.
The third song is called ‘Numb’ and is about the hurt of losing a person mentally rather than physically. In particular, the song is about people that have been conditioned by others such as in Parental Alienation or people that suffer from a mental illness. I took a lot of time to include a lot of ‘almost silence’. This ‘almost silence’, which is the faint sound of taonga pūoro, is there to say ‘just sit in the pain’. I feel that our modern world is always trying to avoid or numb pain. However, surely it is ok, for some, to just dive into the hurt until it has been explored and exhausted. In that aspect, creativity is such a gift to us as it allows us to explore and exhaust emotional pain. For me, ‘Numb’ is one of the most sorrowful and yet hopeful songs I have ever written.
The fourth song, ‘Run’ is about a toxic relationship. I used a restrained approach to the instrumentation at the beginning to show this. However, the song gravitates to, and, ends in the major key with a celebratory explosion of synthesizers. It was virtually all improvised. The positivity at the end of the EP proves to me that, in the end, in my subconscious, the beginning of 2023, for me, is all about hope and faith.
Technically, one of the things I could have done things better was with the balance in the first song, especially in the beginning. I was hindered by the fact I use Artificial Intelligence to master my music. The AI didn’t allow me as much control as I would have liked over the individual songs. (I mastered the music as an album on LANDR. Hopefully, they improve that functionality). However, I could have helped things by balancing the voice better in the beginning, it would have been an easy fix by using the volume automation tool.
Another issue I ran into was that I should have relaxed up on the sibilants. In the future, I will lighten the sibilants so that they do not become an issue when adding compression. Another easy fix for the future.
Singing-wise, I was determined to stay true to my kiwi accent which has some Australian influences; words like ‘water’ and ‘beauty’ were more Aussie. To reiterate, this EP was about expressing myself through the vehicle of songwriting, singing/playing, and audio engineering. I wanted something that I could listen back to and remember certain events and emotions. I hope you enjoy the EP or, at the very least, you can listen to it with an idea of the thought processes I had at the time I created it!
Recycle is available on most streaming platforms including YouTube, Spotify and Apple.
This year I am undertaking postgraduate research at ARA in Ōtautahi. My subject is the ‘Tikanga of songwriting with Mātauranga Māori’. I am in my final two months of research.
Below is the first draft of the creative work for the research. I am about to embark on the second draft. However, I wanted to share this because I like its simplicity; the next draft will be more complex and dig deeper into the pain of colonization as I experience it. It may also include the sounds of some of the other beautiful Taonga Pūoro that Brian Flintoff has created for my research.
In this draft there are only three instruments – voice, kōauau and tumutumu kōhatu. The purpose of using the kōauau is to limit the voice to an interval of about a fourth. This allows for the exploration of microtones.
Recently, my exploration into vocal technique has involved working with a Shure SM7B to record a variety of songs using a range of techniques from the Old Italian Style right through to belt voice.
I found the Shure SM7B to be poor for classical which is to be expected; truckloads of the colour in my voice went missing. However, I enjoy working with the microphone when singing contemporary. (Although, I am also not sure about the results when belting; colour seems to be lost when belting as well. In that aspect, the microphone works best for singing ‘smaller’.)
This week I wrote, recorded and uploaded three songs. There is some improvement from when I first started doing this at the start of the year. I don’t use a pop shield (in fact, I don’t even own a microphone stand and use a clarinet stand instead which is perched precariously on a tray). Therefore, I need to rely on the Old Italian School of Singing techniques to implode consonants. Ten months ago, there was a lot of popping but now, nada. So, I am happy to be now developing a partnership with the microphone in that I know what it can (or can’t) translate for me into the Logic Pro software and what I have to do as a singer to make that happen.
Another thing I am noticing is that I can use vocal techniques rather than the software when creating backing vocals. In the following examples, there is little manipulation from the software. Rather, the EQ is done naturally. I prefer this for myself because I feel this allows the colour of the voice to come through.
Accordingly, below are three different songs I wrote in the first week of my ‘holidays’. The first is ‘In Your Collection’. It is a bittersweet song and came out of ‘nowhere’; written, recorded and uploaded in one day. When I started writing the song in the morning, I wanted to take the listener on a journey that covered a lot of territories. I hope this was achieved.
The second is ‘River Will Carry Me’. This song was written, recorded and uploaded over one and a half days. This uses Taonga Pūoro in the background which are traditional Māori instruments. When I began to write the song, the goal was to confine the voice to as fewer notes as possible. Surprisingly, the genre ended up as some type of jazz (I think); I virtually never sing or listen to jazz so this was fun.
The song ‘Advice to a Songwriter in Love’ ended up a tad more ‘musical theatre’ than I had hoped for and my childhood love for country music really reared its head in the southern accent which mixed with the Southland accent from Aotearoa/New Zealand is very funny. However, I do like the construction of the song in terms of conveying emotion. In the end, music is about emotion. Regardless of how fancy we can become, for me as a singer who performs other people’s music, or my own, it is about the emotion and, hopefully, from time to time, a person listening and sharing that emotion with me.
I have recently discovered the term ‘cross-training’. This method justifies itself by saying it creates commercial opportunities for the singer. I agree with this. However, it also claims to be a healthy way, perhaps even healthier way, to train the voice.
Well…I have worked as a fully professional singer for a few decades. I have sung classical, cross-over and pure CCM (Contemporary Commercial Music). In a nutshell – my Classical is mostly live theatre, Cross-over is mostly events and CCM is working as a singer-songwriter.
I also have performed duties as a Kaikaranga which uses only belt voice. This is an Aotearoa/New Zealand Māori traditional way of singing. (Sorry, the United States of America DID NOT invent belt voice. Indigenous peoples, of all shapes and sizes, have been using this technique for longer than America was a twinkle in the eye of its colonizer.)
Until this year, I have not taught. Now, my teaching this year is 90% CCM. All of my students learn from the Garcia Method. I then add CCM techniques to this foundation. I emphasise breathing and support, balanced onset and singing on the interest, not the capital. I communicate to all students that cross-training is untested. We proceed with belt, aspiration and noises by giving it the respect it deserves.
My passion is to work with singer-songwriters who have the freedom to establish their own voice and identity. I also like musical theatre. I enjoy the brilliance in the musical theatre sound. However, when I suggest a piece of musical theatre, nearly all of these young people express their dissatisfaction with the direction musical theatre is now headed. In particular, nearly all but two of the young people I work with don’t like the nasality and the extreme use of belt voice in modern musical theatre.
My experience of years and years of singing across genres is that cross-training is NOT a healthy way to train the voice. Rather, practising CCM techniques, for me, required me to use my voice in a manner that, I felt, by sensation, nature did not intend.
I have returned to Bel Canto twice (singing solely Bel Canto for a period of two years) to refresh my voice.
Don’t get me wrong, I love CCM. I love belting, aspiration and noises. I use these techniques as carefully as I can by using strategies based upon considering how high and loud I belt, aiming for mostly balanced onsets etc (caveat: this is most of the time… high-risk is part of the CCM singer/songwriting game for me). However, my experience is that ONLY Bel Canto can maintain my voice. To me, it achieves longevity and feels ‘healthy’.
I adore the Bel Canto exercises from Garcia and Marchesi. I rehearse only Bel Canto exercises. Then, I turn to belt, vocal fry, aspirations in my songs. (From time to time, I practice CCM techniques a couple of times a week for about 10 minutes at a time to keep a check on things. They are fun but I feel, sensation wise and progress wise, there is no benefit to rehearsing them too long).
In my experience, microphones do NOT make up for the fact the voice is being used against what nature intended. For example, I worked on a new song yesterday using an extremely close mic technique. My voice was NOT as fresh when I finished as when I sing a full classical concert unamplified (based on an estimated time I spent singing in both examples).
Currently, I am reading material on cross-training. Who knows, there may be a scientific study out there. However, I believe singing teachers must be careful. The evidence we have in front of us is that Bel Canto techniques, in their purest form (not Verismo additions) preserve the voice. Bel Canto singers with a perfected technique work for decades with a voice that is youthful and can access the full range of the voice. You may say, well this is aesthetic. However, to me, this is also nature. We have a vocal range, do we not?
Nowadays, in our post-Bel Canto world, many opera singers don’t seem to last as long as they used to. It is arguable this is because verismo came along. The head voice was lost. Shouting begun. I have sung verismo. I have sung avant-garde opera. In my experience, this type of opera is much tougher on the voice than singing a piece of Handel or Mozart.
Goodness knows what will happen to female singers in the 21st-century musical theatre world. Night after night singing with a technique that was only ever used, until now, in western music sparingly (or, by indigenous peoples, very sparingly). Time will tell. Let us hope these singers are being observed closely by an objective researcher…I fear the proponents of cross-training are far too close to their subject.
The picture at the top of this post is of Porpora. Composer and teacher of the top castrati and, ironically, one of the great Bel Canto teachers. I included him for a reason – we must not forget the past. We are prepared to go to extreme lengths for sound and, ultimately fame and money. Ouch!!!
For argument’s sake, let’s go with my experiences and say CCM is not as healthy. Then, I ask, are songwriters, composers and the establishment within which they operate, still, to this day, centuries after Porpora lived, causing us to harm our bodies? If so, who are these composers? Who is the establishment? Do they know anything about the voice, in particular the female voice? Do they realise the female voice is different from the male? I don’t know much, but it appears there are different acoustical properties? Can we not work around differences between the voice types, if any, rather than force ourselves to be something we are not?
Should we not be demanding composers write for the voice, in particular the female voice in an educated way? Educated by robust research. Science perhaps? In musical theatre, this could mean encouraging composers, for now anyway, until there is robust research, to write for the voice as a legit voice with a contemporary flair.
Sadly, many questions and thoughts weigh heavily upon me as I continue to sing, write songs and begin my teaching career.
Surely, we singing teachers must advocate for common sense if we are involved on boards, committees, workshop cooperatives etc which commission new works or choose repertoire. I fear singing teachers, who should have the knowledge, are playing around with the creative lives of young singers. This includes solid evidence before suggesting students spend money on University programmes to learn these techniques rather than on another subject which could be a backstop for when their CCM career finishes early.
Over the last six months, I have observed a number of young singers learning from two singing teachers at once. Often, without the singing teachers agreeing to this or, even worse, being told!
This trend is understandable if the teachers complement each other and work together. For example, one teacher is a classical teacher and the other has the knowledge to add some cross-over techniques to the tool kit. However, this is, the majority of the time, not what I am seeing. Rather, I am noticing students learning from more than one classical singing teacher.
In other words, some students (or their parents) believe one can buy a voice.
Unfortunately, nothing is further from the truth.
First, a voice is a gift. Secondly, the training of the voice takes many, many years. During these years, one must have faith in their chosen teacher.
One classical singing teacher is enough. This is because classical singing is athletic. Accordingly, the singing teacher will have a method that they will follow step by step. Building slowly, slowly.
By all means, find a movement teacher, piano teacher, Italian teacher, French teacher, German teacher, Spanish teacher, Theory teacher and personal trainer etc. But, another classical singing teacher? What for?
A student should seek the right teacher for them and then be prepared to stand up, face the mirror, find a starting note and practise what their teacher has asked them to do. Paying two, twenty or two hundred singing teachers will not change this fact.
I strongly discourage singing teachers from allowing themselves to be part of this practice. This practice will confuse the student.
This summer I have recommenced writing and recording songs by beginning with a simple set up of a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, Cloudlifter CL-1, Shure M7B, and MacBook Pro 2020. (Hot Tip: I am finding that writing and recording simultaneously have sped things up. The trick is to record in small units that can be cut and pasted if the structure needs tweaking).
The aim has been to write and record a song every couple of days that explores different contemporary vocal techniques. (Hot Tip: Recording your singing is the best way to learn. As Dame Nellie Melba said – use your own brain).
To keep the summer project from becoming an uncontrollable beast, I set the limitation of using Garageband, my own voice and guitars. (Garageband is free with the MacBook Pro). Eventually, I had to concede to buy a Shure SM57 for the acoustic guitar. This lead to purchasing another Cloudlifter and another interface called a U-Phoria UMC404HD (Hot Tip: Buy an interface that exceeds your requirements at the beginning). I also had to concede by buying an AKAI Professional MPKmini… see what I mean about audio engineering becoming an uncontrollable beast! (Hot Tip: Don’t upgrade your Mac to Monterey! I spent hours on the phone with Apple trying to solve an issue Monterey and the AKAI caused!).
If you only use a midi controller, you will only need the equipment I listed in the first paragraph. I play acoustic guitar which is why I needed the extra mic/equipment in the end. Also, if you use an electric guitar, you will only need the equipment in the first paragraph. Just plug in and record.
Minus the computer, the cost of the setup was under NZD2000 so not too bad. The computer of course is the big-ticket item (NZD4500 or so). However, the new MacBook Pro with the M1 chip is fast and for people like me with no patience, it is worth it. I just love how I can bounce down in lightning speed and take my new song out for a walk on my iPhone. (Hot Tip: Bounce your songs down, go for a walk and get some exercise while you ponder if the song is going anywhere…).
Below are some of the songs I wrote and recorded. Some of my experiments worked and some didn’t. The turnaround time was three days per song. The purpose was to use my own songwriting and the recording process as a learning tool. (Hot Tip: Define your goals when songwriting and recording. Songwriting and recording can easily become a no man’s land if you don’t have an achievable and realistic goal.
In my next posts, I will go into detail about the equipment I used and the mindset needed to change from classical singing to contemporary and move backwards and forwards in a seamless and sustainable fashion.
To listen in full you will need to go to a streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music etc.
Today’s reading included Richard Miller’s book ‘Solutions for Singers: Tools for Performers and Teachers’. On page 201, Miller addressed a question about the sharing of information between studios. This caught my interest today.
It was always a part of my training that teachers and coaches would allow me to record my lessons. I was grateful for this because I realised so much can be overlooked in a lesson.
Now, as an emerging teacher, I encourage students to record lessons. Accordingly, it was amusing to read this passage in Miller’s book. Miller describes a few examples of teachers who do not allow recordings or other teachers to sit in on lessons. (Miller disapproves of this practice, of course).
I have my own fun example. This week, a teacher where I am teaching this term, SOLE Music Academy, and I exchanged lessons. I had questions about microphone techniques for classical singers. A question which is so important in today’s performance world due to outdoor concerts. I learnt a very basic way of practicing with the mic which will help me tremendously. We came to the conclusion that classical singers shouldn’t always be confined to standing rigidly before a mic stand!
Imagine how many opportunities await us if we learn from our colleagues and share information? Especially cross-genre!
In February 2020, while preparing for a lockdown in South Africa, I began a three-year project affectionally named the ‘Lilli Lehmann Project’. This project was inspired by the great German Soprano, Lilli Lehmann.
Lehmann wrote several books including a book translated into English as ‘How to Sing’. It was a chance appearance of her book on my Spotify feed in February 2020 which sparked my interest in revisiting singing techniques to become a singing teacher. In particular, the book revealed the philosophy of Lehmann which was ongoing critique, reflection, and evaluation of her own practice as a performer and a teacher.
I decided to seek for myself through an approach of Research, Embodiment and Teaching.
I threw myself into the project as the South African borders closed around me in March 2020. Assuming the period would be brief. As of March 2020, I believed I had about three weeks to complete the project.
I was fortunate to be in a rural situation in the Western Cape and was able to spend the entire day experimenting with my voice in a 17th Century wine cellar. As we all now know, the pandemic continues to disrupt our lives. The lockdown in South Africa became one of the longest in the world. Weeks became months.
The first stage of the project was to revisit my technique completely because I believe that a singing teacher must be able to embody their teachings in order to teach. I kept a record of this progress on social media. I have included one of these videos below. It is with guitar because, of course, the lockdown prohibited me from seeking out a pianist.
The research stage involved an exploration of historical pedagogy. It had long been a goal of mine to sing all of the exercises by Garcia, Melba, and Marchesi. The Pandemic gave me the time to read the author’s instructions with care. I critically evaluated how I had been taught by my previous singing teacher in Auckland, who came from a branch of the ‘Garcia Singing Family Tree’ (through Anna Schoen-Rene and Lucie Manen). The result was my decision to investigate other branches of the Garcia lineage to evaluate how they imparted the knowledge, including the emphasis they put on certain elements of the knowledge.
Accordingly, I worked towards embodying the Garcia method by investigating other branches of the Garcia singing family tree. My first port of call was the work of Daniel Shigo in New York who writes wonderful blogs and has located Hermann Klein’s Phono Vocal Method. I bought Klein’s singing book (edited by Mr. Shigo and available on Amazon.com) and listened to the videos of the old gramophone recordings Klein made which are on YouTube. I then ‘pulled apart’ my technique and put it back together again according to Klein. The result was surprising. My range increased nearly an octave, the legato and tone quality improved and I enjoyed singing more! It was at this stage that I departed the Lucie Manen side of the family tree!
My next step was to investigate Dame Nellie Melba’s work. Melba’s singing demonstrates the old Italian school of singing. She was taught in Australia and then travelled to learn from Marchesi. In other words, Melba was also under the influence of the Garcia lineage.
I have found Dame Nellie Melba’s book to be the best singing book I have used so far. Melba was the first writer that imparted the knowledge of appoggio to me in a way I could understand. I now use her exercises every day to train my body in the system.
Currently, I am embarking upon a major body of research into the work of Madame Virginia Zeani. This research is possible due to the work of the New Zealand Opera School and Mr Roger Beaumont in New Zealand. Madame Zeani is also of the Garcia lineage. The benefit of Madame Zeani’s work is that a great deal of her work has been captured on film, recordings and in writings. Alongside Melba, I believe Madame Zeani is one of the few teachers who embodies and imparts the knowledge of appoggio.
Importantly, Madame Zeani calls appoggio what it is – a system. In other words, every component of the system must be in working order. Otherwise, the system will fail. This system begins with posture ( impossible while playing the guitar by the way) and is reliant on expansion and suspension of the rib cage, especially using the muscles in the back. This expansion and suspension of the rib cage, in my experience, is the only way the diaphragm can do its job as nature intended. Madame Zeani reminds us to be like a Ballet dancer.
I believe that singing teaching in the 21st Century requires the incorporation of both old and new vocal techniques. My experience as a cross-over performer has been the increasing need for authenticity. In other words, the need to embrace a wide range of aesthetic choices. In the past, as a singer-songwriter, I had to discover for myself how to belt, make noises and use aspiration. At the time, many thought I was ruining my career. To my mind, I was embarking upon what I love – exploring the possibilities of the human voice to express.
In this respect, I have been emboldened by the work of Barton and Spivey in the USA. Their teaching/writing pays homage to the Bel Canto methods while incorporating techniques such as belting to meet the demands of musical theatre. Musical Theatre singers require a diverse set of vocal skills to meet the demands of musical theatre. Classical technique is not enough. CCM is not enough. Musical Theatre requires a combination of old and new. It is very difficult.
Therefore, the next stage of my project is to teach in New Zealand in a CCM studio. This will allow me to investigate modern techniques whilst teaching the foundations of the old Italian method.
In addition to this opportunity, I am being given opportunities to deliver masterclasses or to drop into coaching sessions. Last week, I was able to drop in on a young student and teach posture and support. In this student’s case, the benefit of the system of appoggio was instantaneous. The register difficulties disappeared (there is no need to concern oneself with the register if the system is correct because the change from chest to head happens as nature intended) and the quality of the sound greatly improved.
The final word is from Madame Zeani’s teacher, Lydia Lipkovskaya singing Verdi’s aria ‘Caro Nome’. Young singers of any genre should be taught to realize the techniques required to sing like Lipkovskaya will give them the foundations for lifelong singing. It is upon these foundations that the belting, aspirations, and noises can be placed. To think singing technique can be otherwise is a grave error.
Today’s post discusses and demonstrates some of the singing techniques required when including musical theatre pieces, from the golden age until the present day, in a concert.
I am focussing on the singing techniques here. However, to make the transition truly authentic, the singer will need to spend time on accent. The correct accent will add the X factor needed for true authenticity.
To see where I am coming from, here is an example of my classical singing. This demonstrates the classical voice which focusses on efficiency and beauty of sound. The range in this aria is well over two octaves. The top note is a D6. I use chest voice until Eflat 4 and then blend my registers at that point.
Next, I will show you some examples of singing in a different way for musical theatre.
An obvious next step for a classical singer is to gently edge away from operatic singing into the ‘legit’ voice. ‘Legit’ is the word used by the musical theatre world to describe singing with an operatic quality.
‘Legit’ singing is abundant in the Golden Age of Musical Theatre (1940s, 1950s and 1960s). Here is an example from Show Boat by Jerome Kern. If you compare the previous example to this example you will hear I have lightened the resonance but I have maintained the same point (Eflat4) for blending of the registers. In this example, I still focus on a legato line over and above the words.
Here is an example of an opera that has been turned into a musical. The song is ‘Dere’s a cafe on the corner’ from Bizet/Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones. In this example, I begin the transition of prioritising the word over the legato line. This is the key to transitioning into musical theatre. Words, words, words.
To state the obvious, opera doesn’t use a microphone and musical theatre does. Accordingly, including musical theatre in a concert can be tricky. Here are some examples of pieces I would only include in a concert if a microphone was available.
‘Day by Day’ from Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell (rock/pop musical). Techniques: use chest voice, focus on word, use aspiration from time to time and consider adding the odd straight tone opening up into vibrato.
‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ from Lloyd-Weber’s Evita (British musical). Techniques: use chest up to Dflat5 at the climax of the song. (This is referred to in musical theatre as ‘belting’).
‘The winner takes it all’ from Abba’s Mamma Mia (Jukebox musical). Techniques: use of ‘belt’ and head voice interchangeably over all of the voice range.
‘Mama who bore me’ from Spring Awakening (Rock/folk musical). Techniques: head voice and chest voice used interchangeably. Aspiration and breathinesss throughout the voice is used to achieve a folk quality to the voice. (Operatic sopranos are trained for efficiency. Therefore, allowing breath through the voice should be practiced or the muscle memory will revert back to an efficient use of the breath/ quality which is not suitable for folk).
Finally, not every voice will suit every song or style. It is obvious, for example, I have a mellow voice that suits classical/legit singing. Also, my personality is classical/legit. However, it is virtually impossible to have a career without crossing over to contemporary at some point.
Furthermore, classical music is incorporating more and more contemporary singing styles. I have just workshopped a new opera that used classical, belt and jazz vocal styles. The composer wasn’t aware of this until I pointed it out and asked for a microphone!
We classical singers need to be flexible and open to contemporary music.
For those interested in reading further, see the contemporary section in my reading and listening page, or go to: https://belcantocanbelto.com