Progess and Vocal Breakthrough

I would never have thought that an off-hand comment by my ballet instructor would set me on the correct path vocally, BUT it did.  After ballet class a week ago from last Saturday, I introduced myself to Mr. F. and told him that I was a singer/pianist and that his class so far had helped me enormously in recovering my vocal function.  And Mr. F. said: “It’s the same as ballet. In ballet you lead with the chest and insist on feeling a long spine up and down so all that you do in dance hangs from that “pull up”.  Same thing in singing.  I sang on Broadway years ago.  (and he placed his flat palm in line with his upper teeth).  Everything has to be from here up.  If it’s from here down it’s wrong – period.  The highest coloratura and the lowest bass sing the same.  We sing with our head – no matter what the voice teachers say.  They refer to chest, mix etc. Forget that.”

I was just about to resume a cover on my voice until he said that, and then I reasoned that if he survived a Broadway show with 8 shows a week (before the days of body mikes) that his technique vocally had to be consistent and reliable.  SO I went back to my practice room and tinkered. 

He’s right and there is a way to put the cover on the voice (as in the umlaut U in German – like the word Ruekert – sorry my blog does not show umlauts so I revert to the standard German substitution).  Over three rehearsals it started to gel for me.  So now (without making your eyes glaze with technical jargon), this is how it works:

You stand errect as in ballet with solid support on both feet, chest forward, spine long and head erect.  You begin on the lowest notes of your range with a very soft umlaut UE (that’s placed over the tongue).  You leave the lower jaw in a rather closed neutral position, and you begin to spin the breath very gently in a five-tone exercise.   You will find that the correct high-placed cover with the looseness in the jaw – plus “sipping the breath” rather than gasping the breath – and quite suddenly the vertical column for your breath connection from your hips on up is established. There is also a feeling of animation above your nose.  You can work this sound very precisely as high as the voice will go.  This is an over-simplification, but in principal this is it.  Since the back of the throat is loose the sound just goes straight up and since your mouth is more closed than opened you have a loose control of the focus and it goes straight forward.  On high C I can barely put a finger between my teeth.  On high F in alt I can get a finger plus a little in space between my teeth.  If you drop the jaw too much you are likely to jut the lower jaw forward – and then the alignment is GONE and everything will collapse and then you will lean very badly on the throat.

So, in sum, on my first blog entry, I was assuming that I would only be able to do the small light lyric, but now it looks like the voice will be doing the full lyric.  Act 1 Traviata is working. Ernani is working. Fiordiligi is working. Cleopatra (Handel) is working, and Manon Lescaut is working – and I am revisiting Turandot since Puccini had the same soprano in mind for all of his heroines.  And if I can sing Turandot on the “interest of my voice” rather than the “principal of my voice” it’s very easy.  However, there will be no Wagner or Strauss for a very very long time.

After my evening rehearsals I walk the 59th Street Bridge to work in the morning and practice at 8:15 am as I walk over – in all kinds of weather.  Even after fatigue from last night, Traviata Act 1 worked WITHOUT warmup – and judging from reaction from pedestrians below and in the cars going by – even with the N train rattling overhead – the voice must be very big.  And it feels like I am barely putting any pressure on my chords.

Thank you Mr. F. for making just the right comment when I needed it the most.


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