Not All The Same

We know that there is more than one way to belt. If, however, the scientists that look at singing don’t go along with that, the research they do won’t help us. I see that as a BIG problem.

Having just returned from the PAS 4 Conference in San Antonio (that’s Physiology and Acoustics of the Singing Voice #4), I encountered a number of well-known voice science researchers who were going to argue with me about what belting is and is not. This argument was based upon their own knowledge, of course, not of making the sound commercially in a piece of music in front of an audience or audiences, but of making it on their own, in a lab situation, without verification from anyone else. How is this any different that the classical teachers, working on belting, who think they know or assume they know, but have never actually worked on this sound with any other EXPERT to actually get verification that they DO know? Not different.

This is not good for all kinds of reasons. The first reason is that we all, including me, hang on voice science to help us out of 200 years of subjective misunderstanding of vocal production and other ensuing confusion. What has been published on belting is largely the result of the research of just a few people, (that includes the work I have published) working with just a few subjects, many of whom were used as subjects just because they were locally available to researchers.

If the science that is submitted has to be evaluated by other scientists as to its accuracy and credibility, but the singing being researched as a part of the same project DOES NOT GET REVIEWED AT ALL, can that be useful? As a subject of voice research on belting I, at least, had sung one entire musical show in a professional quality production as a belter, but some of the subjects in other research may not have sung in any professional calibre performance at all. Nevertheless, the research was given credence because of the science and not the sound itself and published. Seems like a conflict to me.

This is made worse when the scientists take the sound into consideration and the sound is the wrong sound, or is misunderstood by the researcher. The information they collect gets published and only makes things worse. Adds to the confusion rather than to clarity. How do you tell an important scientist, “Excuse me, Big Dr. Professor Science Person, the sound you think is belting, isn’t?” How do you tell him (usually it is a male) “You sound awful, sir, and no one who gets paid money would sing like that unless they were in trouble, so please don’t use yourself as a baseline model for this sound.” How do you explain “You are studying something from a confused place to begin with, so how is that going to guide you in your research?” Answer is, you don’t. I know. I tried. I continue to try. Hasn’t worked yet.

Yes, my opinion on belting is just mine, but I truly feel it is representative of the sound for all the reasons I have stated and stated and restated on this blog in the past. I work with people who are out there being asked to make this sound (or versions of it) for a living and if they were not able to do that, they would be out of work and so would I. I know whereof I speak and sing. I don’t for a minute pretend to understand the deep inner workings of voice science research and am always quick and willing to be corrected by the scientists, but they, unfortunately, are NOT willing to be corrected by me, who, at this point, is one of the senior teachers of CCM in the world. If not me, or my colleagues, then whom?

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One thought on “Not All The Same”

  1. I am loving the subjects you chose to deal with here. I am an ex-professor type and still very much a science type and wish I had gone to PAS4 like I had planned. Last minute I had some students who needed me in NY, one of them playing Rosie in a national tour of Bye Bye Birdie.

    I do not take offense at your apparent disdain for the Science types because you are right. There is a big disconnect between the way the non-performing scientist uses the information and how we as performer/teachers do.

    I’ve been teaching classical singers and CCM singers all my teaching life. The only thing I would say is that we should not throw all the scientists and classical teachers in one basket. There are a few of us out there who deal with real world issues, balancing it the scientific information and the square thinking that leads to disconnect between classical and CCM techniques.

    I could not possibly address all the issues here, so I will address some of this on a future blog post and hope you will take a look. I will let you know when the post is up.

    At least I will say this. The voice scientists do a lot of work with laryngologists and their point of views are limited by health concerns and theories and also by a complete misunderstanding of the broad and pluralistic nature of the CCM world (and indeed the classical world as well).

    As far as belting, if we make a simple division between light belt and heavy belt we already have different issues to deal with. Where as light belt properly balanced causes no danger whatsoever, a heavy belt is something that we have to monitor to make sure the singer does not harm himself/herself.

    There are further issues of emotional conviction and how this actually may prevent harm in vocal models that might be judged as dangerous and unhealthy. Take the lead singer of Gypsy Kings or the Portuguese Fado singer Mariza or Mahalia Jackson or Bruce Sprinsteen and you realize that the power of these performers cannot be contained by scientific norms. The question is how do we as teachers use our knowledge to help these people do their best work should they approach us.

    I think people like you and Robert Edwin have a lot to add to the discussion. I would take a page from Obama’s book and realize that there are Israelis who are ready to make sacrifices to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Classical/CCM pedagogy discussion needs open minds on both sides if we are going to get to a point when we voice teachers are helpful, open-minded and judicious as well relative to facts.

    I love that you are straight-forward and I hope that we could look at having a real talk about this sometime.

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