Not "Faching" Around

“Theatrical singers with excellent vocal technique and versatility. (Broadway, pop, classical, world beat, R&B). Females should be versatile sopranos/mezzos with strong Broadway-Pop belt, possible classical background. Males should have high baritone/tenor range”. (Back Stage casting ad, June 19-25, 2008)

The university I just left has a policy of “not teaching to the marketplace”. That means they don’t teach belting. The official policy point of view is that “belting is bringing your head voice down to mix with your chest voice”. Not. It is taught by a 30 something man who is a strictly classical singer. Lots of life experience there. They are so frightened of belting.

If you watched the Tony Awards this past Sunday you were lucky to see/hear Patty Lupone who is Rose in the revival of Gypsy. A true belter if there ever was one, and someone who has diligently worked to make sure she is healthy when she sings. You would have heard Kelli O’Hara sing effortlessly as Nellie Forbush in the revival of South Pacific, going from chest to mix to head with expression and beauty. You could also have heard Sierra Borggess as the Little Mermaid in the real “Broadway-Pop” thing. Kerry Butler represents the same category as Clio in Xanadu, and last year’s Laura Bell Bundy does, too, in Legally Blonde. All of them real pop divas singing very well. Anyone who tells you that all of these women are singing in the same way is deaf. You have one true belter, one legit mixer and three pop divas…..they are very different things. Only Ms. O’Hara sounds like she has had classical training of the best kind, but you wouldn’t mistake her for an opera singer. She is not singing like Natalie Dessay even though the voices are not dissimilar in weight.

These women represent different vocal categories and sing different kinds of literature….in classical music they call the divisions “fachs” or “niches”. Theater doesn’t do that, but by golly, classical singers are going to make Broadway fit into classical vocal pedagogy even if they have to beat that square peg into a round hole with a sledge hammer. If you read the description at the top of this piece, you would know that theater people don’t care about fachs, or categories, as they make them up all the time. The ad asks for Broadway-Pop, R&B, classical and world beat vocalists. Know any music conservatories that ask for all of those on a graduate’s recital?

In order to really understand the implications of this, you have to understand vocal function. That means that you must know that any voice is capable of singing in any style or configuration if it is trained to do so, but not everyone wants to do that and not all training will easily get one there. I love it when classical singers say “it’s all the same” about vocal technique in any style, because they sing every style as if it were opera. Guess what, if you do that, it is all the same. That doesn’t make it appropriate or intelligent or even tasteful.

I recently heard a young opera singer in a concert doing arias that were pretty good. When she forayed into CCM, however, she thought that turning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” into an opera aria would be a good idea. It was SO awful I had to leave the room. Why didn’t she follow that with “Un Bel Di” as a rock song? That would have been turnabout as fair play. Right.

How can you worry about what “fach” something is in if you think everything is the same anyway, and that you can divide all the various styles of music theater into categories when you don’t even know how to make the sounds and think they are all alike? or wrong?

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